What shapes savanna insect communities? Investigating key consumers and their effects


The ACCE DTP is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, faith or religious belief, pregnancy or maternity, parental or caring responsibilities or career pathway to date. We understand that a student’s potential can be shown in many ways and we strive to recruit students from all backgrounds, and support them on their scientific journey.

We have designed our application systems to identify candidates who are likely to be successful in research regardless of what opportunities may have been available to them prior to their application.

Various support and guidance on applying for an ACCE DTP studentship, including how to apply; what we’re looking for (including our assessment rubric); details of financial support, training, and placement opportunities available; and details of our recruitment process, can be found at https://accedtp.ac.uk, in the ‘prospective applicants’ tab.

Project overview

All plant matter must be recycled for nutrients to be released and made available again in ecosystems. In savanna, herbivores, decomposers (e.g. termites) and fire all consume plant material. These agents therefore play a critical role in making nutrients available again, influencing habitat structure and affecting biodiversity. Yet, we still do not understand how much these different agents consume, and how the removal of vegetation by these consumers affects ecosystem structure and function. This project will use a new large-scale ecosystem experiment in a natural African savanna to better understand the role of different consumers in shaping savannas, with a focus on insects. The student will work on a unique field experiment, which uses a range of manipulations (large mammal exclosures and termite suppression plots, with insect exclosures nested within the plots) which will enable us to separate out the effects of large mammal herbivores, and decomposers.

The project will aim to:

  1. Quantify how much consumption of vegetation is due insects vs. mammals, and understand what the consequences are for plants.
  2. Investigate how above and below-ground invertebrate communities are affected by different savanna consumers and what the mechanisms are.
  3. Explore how different invertebrate functions (e.g. decomposition, pollination, soil bioturbation) are affected by different savanna consumers.

The project will be based in Kaingo Game Reserve, a large savanna reserve, in the Waterberg region of South Africa. Kaingo management are committed to supporting research through a new, well-equipped research camp.

Novelty & Timeliness:

Humans are altering savanna ecosystems through changes to fire regimes, biodiversity and climate. We know megaherbivores are declining, fire regimes are altering and decomposers are affected by anthropogenic activities. As such it is essential that we understand what key consumer agents operate in different places and the ecosystem consequences of changes to these consumers. This study will help us understand how changes to key consumers will affect how savanna are structured and how they function.

Essential and Desirable Criteria


  • Invertebrate identification skills
  • Quantitative skills (e.g. proficiency with R or similar)
  • Problem solving
  • Adaptability
  • Able to work unaided
  • Driver’s licence


  • Field experience
  • Ant identification experience

How to Apply

Notes and details of how to apply are available here: https://accedtp.ac.uk/phd-opportunities/

All applicants to ACCE must complete the ACCE personal statement proforma. This is instead of a personal/supporting statement or cover letter. The proforma is designed to standardise this part of the application to minimise the difference between those who are given support and those who are not. Candidates should also submit a CV and the contact details of 2 referees.

Part-Time Study Options

All ACCE PhDs are available as part time or full time, with part time being a minimum of 50% of full time. Please discuss potential part time arrangements with the primary supervisor before applying to the programme.

Project CASE Status

This project is not a CASE project. While individual applicant quality is our overriding criterion for selection, the ACCE DTP has a commitment for 40% of all studentships to be CASE funded - as such, CASE projects may be favoured in shortlisting applicants when candidates are otherwise deemed to be equal or a consensus on student quality cannot be reached. This will only be done as a last resort for separating candidates.


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Funded studentship

NERC ACCE DTP programme starts from October 2024.
UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:
• Stipend (2023/24 UKRI rate £18,622)
• Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2023/24 rate £4,712)
• Research support and training grant (RTSG)
Note - UKRI funding only covers UK (Home) fees. The DTP partners have various schemes which allow international students to join the DTP but only be required to pay home fees. Home fees are already covered in the UKRI funding, meaning that successful international candidates do not need to find any additional funding for fees.



1.Walker, A.E.L., Robertson, M.P., Eggleton, P., Bunney, K., Lamb, C. & Parr, C.L. (2022) Indirect control of decomposition by an invertebrate predator. Functional Ecology 36: 2943-2954.
2.Griffiths, H., Ashton, L., Parr, C.L. & Eggleton, P. (2021) Tansley Insight: The impact of invertebrate decomposers on plants and soil. New Phytologist 231: 2142-2149. 3.Trisos, M.O., Parr, C.L., Davies, A.B., Leitner, M. & February, E.C. (2021) Mammalian herbivore movement into drought refugia has cascading effects on savanna insect communities. J. Animal Ecology 90:1753-1763.
4.Bishop, T.R., Griffiths, H., Ashton, L., Eggleton, P., Woon, J. & Parr, C.L. (2020) Clarifying terrestrial recycling pathways. Trends in Ecology & Evolution S0169-5347