Individual and population-level phenotypic responses to reintroduction programme – implications for species integrity and conservation

Partula radiolata snail

Partula radiolata snail

The aim of this project is to investigate the selection processes along an environmental gradient, from captivity to the wild. 

The studentship is part of the Southampton Partnership for Innovative Training of Future Investigators Researching the Environment (SPITFIRE) funded by NERC and starts 1 October 2018.

Apply for this course

Read the eligibility criteria and application guidance below, then apply via the Spitfire Online Application Service.

Application deadline: 5 January 2018

Research focus

A focus on behaviour and morphology and the interplay between individual- and population-level mechanisms, will 1) yield testable predictions about post-release success and 2) align concepts of species integrity, adaptive evolution, and conservation.

Supervision and training

The SPITFIRE DTP programme provides comprehensive personal and professional development training alongside extensive opportunities for students to expand their multi-disciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research and industrial/policy partners. The student will be registered at the University of Southampton and hosted at Ocean and Earth Science. Specific training will include (i) advanced quantitative methods, including the use of R; (ii) measurement of behavioural and morphological phenotypic traits; (iii) data collection across a range of environmental gradients, iv) Development of post-release monitoring techniques

Beyond the exchanges associated with SPITFIRE we anticipate the student travelling to French Polynesia to undertake fieldwork alongside existing collaborators on this project, including Zoological Society London.


This project will involve 4 elements:

  • Post-release monitoring techniques must be developed to enable individually identified snails to be located, so that trait data can be compiled for post-release populations. The monitoring of reintroduced species enables managers to assess whether reintroduction programmes are being met2. It should therefore composed an integral part of any release programme. This will be particularly challenging for a small mollusc.
  • Behaviour and morphology traits will be analysed, along an environmental gradient from conventional captivemanagement, a complex habitat within Marwell Wildlife’s Energy for Life facility, to natural systems in French Polynesia, where ongoing releases are underway. Individual-level behavior responses are an important but often neglected area of conservation3, and may be under selection during conservation interventions. Shell morphology traits will be measured in live and dead specimens, so that phenotypic change in response to long term captive management can be assessed.
  • Quantitative genetic models enable evaluation of the interplay between individual- and population-level responses. Analyses of traits, within Partula populations managed under different environmental conditions, pre- and post- release will provide novel information about selection processes playing out during conservation management.
  • Data from 1, 2 and 3, will enable development of a model, to make testable predictions of individual- and population-level responses to release. Concepts of species integrity will inform interpretation of model outcomes and evaluation of reintroduction programmes for Partula and beyond.


The conservation of a threatened species may rely upon maintenance of ex-situ assurance populations, providing individuals for release into the wild, when reintroductions are necessary and viable. These populations are typically maintained in human-dominated environments (e.g. zoos) that differ markedly from natural ecosystems. When maintained over many generations, assurance populations are therefore at risk from adaptation to captivity.

Polynesian tree snails (Partula spp.) are a diverse Mollusca group, endemic to the islands of French Polynesia. Following the introduction of the rosy wolf snail, Partula suffered a mass extinction in the 1970s1. As a model species to understand causes of diversity, intensive study was ongoing, allowing collection of assurance populations, maintained as breeding programmes in zoos to provide captive-bred individuals for reintroduction. Post-release monitoring of tree snails is challenging. Individual- and population-level responses post-release, along with the impact of adaptation to captivity is unknown, with potentially critical implications for species integrity and conservation.


This project is open to applicants who meet the SPITFIRE eligibility and other exceptional applicants.

SPITFIRE seeks excellent prospective research students regardless of their particular scientific background. We aim to recruit the best students rather than to fill particular projects. We put a huge amount of effort into the recruitment process to meet this objective. 

Minimum Academic Eligibility Criteria: 

  • BSc/MSci 2:1
  • and/or Masters (MSc or MRes) at Merit/Distinction level (>60%).
  • and/or evidence of significant relevant professional experience equivalent to Masters level.

How to apply

Apply using the Spitfire Online Application Service, please include:

  • A short statement of your research interests and rationale for your choice of project(s) - in the Personal Statement section of the application form
  • Curriculum vitae - giving details of your academic record and stating your research interests.
  • Names of two current academic referees - with an institutional email addresses in the Reference section of the application form. On submission of your online application your referees will be automatically emailed requesting they send a reference to us directly by email.
  • Academic transcripts and IELTS/TOEFL certificate if applicable.

As far as possible please upload all documents in pdf format.

Interview dates

For successful candidates are:

  • Thursday 22 February 2018
  •  Friday 23 February 2018
  • Thursday 1 March 2018
  • Friday 2 March 2018

Please note they are all day events and will be allocated based on interview panel availability.

General enquiries should be directed to the SPITFIRE Team on

The deadline for applications is 5 January 2018.

Any questions ?

You are encouraged to contact potential supervisors by email to discuss project-specific aspects of the proposed research at an early stage.

If you have any questions about the project please contact

Main supervisor: Dr Judith Lock


University of Southampton

Main supervisor: Dr Judith Lock

Co-supervisor: Dr Chris Jackson

Marwell Wildlife

Co-supervisor: Dr Heidi Mitchell

Natural History Museum

Co-supervisor: Jon Ablett


Bick CS, Foighil DO and Coote T (2016) Differential survival among Tahitian tree snails during a mass extinction event: persistence of the rare and fecund. Oryx 50: 169-175. doi 10.1017/S0030605314000325.

IUCN (2013) Guidelines for reintroductions and other conservation translocations. Retrieved 24th August 2017.  

Merrick MJ and Koprowski JL (2017) Should we consider individual behavior differences in applied wildlife conservation studies? Biological Conservation 209: 34-44. doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2017.01.021.

Southampton Partnership for Innovative Training of Future Investigators Researching the Environment

This a joint PhD training partnership between the Natural History Museum and SPITFIRE a NERC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) creating an innovative multi-disciplinary experience for the effective training of future leaders in environmental science, engineering, technology development, business, and policy.

Funded by 

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