Do cryptic species matter? Investigating the ecological differences between earthworm cryptic species

This project will examine whether genetically defined cryptic species of earthworms have different ecological responses from morphological species.

The studentship is part of the ACCE Doctoral Training Partnership, funded by NERC and starts October 2019.

Apply for this course

Read the eligibility criteria and application guidance below, then apply through the University of York's online application service.

Application deadline: 9 January 2019


The omics revolution has transformed the world of taxonomy. Almost over night, organisms that were once considered to be the same species on the basis of their morphology have been grouped into different cryptic species with significantly different genetics.

However, amidst this wealth of genetic data a central unresolved question is: how far do genetic species differ from classical morphological species in their characteristics. In particular, do these genetic species have different ecological responses from the morphological species?

This is an important question because it may reduce the value of ecological data obtained from morphological species in the absence of further breaking down into genetic species components. It goes right to the heart of what we should be measuring when we undertake environmental sampling. 

We will examine this question using UK earthworms. They form an excellent study system for assessing the ecological importance of cryptic species because:

  • They are drivers of key soil processes that result in the delivery of important ecosystem services such as food production and water filtration.
  • They are known to have multiple cryptic species. 

This project will combine field work, classical taxonomy, controlled laboratory experiments and the application of omics technology. It would suit anyone with an interest in ecology who wants to combine laboratory experiments, field work and molecular analysis. 


The student will:

  • Collect earthworms from the field, learn how to identify them using classic taxonomic keys and design experiments to investigate their contribution to a range of soil processes such as soil drainage, soil structure formation and the break down of organic matter and nutrient cycling.
  • Learn how to apply current omics technologies to identify species.
  • Compare and contrast the ecology of individual earthworms to determine whether cryptic species behave differently from other members of the same morphological species.


ACCE studentships are available to UK and EU applicants only.

Residency rules apply. UK and EU students with qualifying residence in the UK are eligible for full-cost awards. Non-UK students from the EU who do not have qualifying residence are eligible for fees-only awards, which covers the tuition fees and Research Training Support Grant (RTSG), but not stipend. 

All applicants need to comply with the registered university's English-language requirements.

Applicants should have obtained or be about to obtain a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have a master's degree. Applicants with a minimum Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

How to apply

Applications for the PhD are processed though the University of York's online application service. More information on studentships and the application process can be found on the university's Environment and Geography department pages.

To submit your application to an Environment project, please follow these steps:

  • go to the University's Online Application Service
  • please select the course 'PhD in Environmental Science'
  • select '2019 October, Full Time' as your start date
  • click on the 'Start application' button
  • it is very important that you write the title of the project you are applying to and the names of the project supervisors. It is not necessary to include a research proposal (as the project is already defined).

The deadline for applications is 9 January 2019. 

Any questions?

If you have any questions about the project please contact

Main supervisor: Prof Mark Hodson


Co-supervisor: Dr Paul Eggleton

Co-supervisor: Emma Sherlock

ACCE Doctoral Training Partnership

Joint PhD training partnerships between the Natural History Museum and the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool and York, and the NERC’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH).

Funded by 

Submit your application