Competition amongst endemic lizard species on a tropical island (Round Island, Mauritius)

A Telfair's skink (Leiolopisma telfairii), one of the lizard species native to Round Island

Telfair's skink (Leiolopisma telfairii) by Eliane Küpfer, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. Telfair's skink are one of the lizard species native to Round Island.

This PhD project will investigate the feeding niches of lizards on Round Island, Mauritius to guide restoration management enhance the success of planned reptile reintroductions.

The studentship is part of the Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership, funded by NERC and starts September 2020.

Apply for this course

Applications for this PhD are processed via Cardiff University's online application service.

Application deadline: 6 January 2020

Project background

Round Island, Mauritius, hosts a community of rare endemic lizard species. Their environment was cleared of most vegetation by introduced goats and rabbits (now eliminated).

A partnership between the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and the Government’s National Parks and Conservation Service has permitted the restoration of habitat and with it the recovery of the reptile-dominated vertebrate community (Cole et al. 2018).

The reptile species occupy a landscape going through plant community recovery, but little is known about availability of the invertebrate prey. The skinks and geckos have proved to be remarkably resilient to environmental change, although some species were extirpated from the island’s reptile community.

It is likely the reptiles originally adapted to different niches, including trophic niches that allowed them to avoid direct competition. One species, the Telfair’s skink, is a generalist, consuming a wide range of different taxonomic groups (Brown et al. 2014). Other species may have narrower niche axes and be more specialised.

Understanding the feeding niche of the reptiles may help explain differences in population recovery and guide restoration management to enhance the success of planned reptile reintroductions.

Project Aims and Methods

The main aims/methods of this project are:

  • To analyse the diets of the lizard species that have survived on Round Island. Collect lizard faecal samples from across the island and use High Throughput Sequencing (HTS) of plant and invertebrate DNA.
  • To DNA barcode as many invertebrate species on Round Island as possible (we have already barcoded all the plants). Invertebrates will be identified by the student at the Natural History Museum. Once we have the barcodes we can interpret the output from HTS and identify who is eating what.
  • To analyse for prey choice and competition. Compare what lizards are eating with available food (Vaughan et al. 2018) and use dietary overlap tests to assess dietary similarity.
  • To analyse differences in the abundances of lizard and invertebrate species in different plant communities. Apply/develop a range of invertebrate and reptile survey techniques. Look for areas of more advanced regrowth of the vegetation to predict changes to the island food web structure in the future (Macfadeyn et al. 2011).
  • To analyse the diets of reptile species that are to be reintroduced to Round Island’s reptile community. Use prey overlap tests to evaluate whether any of these species are likely to compete with Round Island species.


The project will be co-supervised by Dr Nik Cole (CASE Partner) from Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, and by Dr Gavin Broad (DTP Partner) of the Natural History Museum. Their expertise was critical to the development of this project and will be invaluable to the student.

Candidate Requirements

Applicants will need to have a strong academic record with expertise relevant to this project. Molecular Ecology expertise would be ideal but is not a prerequisite.

Must be able to work in the field on a rugged tropical island for extended periods and also be good in the lab.

Possession of a clean driving licence would be an advantage for accessing mainland sites on Mauritius.


Applications are primarily open to UK residents only (minimum residence of 3 years excluding time in further education), however, a limited number of full studentships are also available to EU residents. Students from EU countries who do not meet the residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award but no stipend.  Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.

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.

How to apply

Applications should be made through the Cardiff University's online application system.

You should apply to the Doctor of Philosophy in Biosciences with a start date of October 2020, including:

  • your CV
  • a personal statement
  • two references (applicants are recommended to have a third academic referee, if the two academic referees are within the same department/school)
  • current academic transcripts

In the research proposal section of your application, please specify the project title and supervisors of this project and copy the project description in the text box provided. In the funding section, please select ’I will be applying for a scholarship/grant’ and specify that you are applying for advertised funding from NERC GW4+ DTP.

If you wish to apply for more than one project please email

The deadline for applications is 16:00 on 6 January 2020.

Shortlisted candidates will then be invited to an institutional interview. Interviews will be held between 10 and 21 February 2020.

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: Prof William Symondson


Cardiff University

Main supervisor: Prof William Symondson

Co-supervisor: Dr Ian Vaughan

Co-supervisor: Dr Pablo Orozco ter Wengel

The Natural History Museum

Co-supervisor: Dr Gavin Broad

Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust/Mauritian Wildlife Foundation

Co-supervisor: Dr Nik Cole


Brown DS, Burger R, Cole N, Vencatasamy D, Clare EL, Montazam A, Symondson WOC (2014) Dietary competition between the alien Asian Musk Shrew (Suncus murinus) and a reintroduced population of Telfair’s Skink (Leiolopisma telfairii). Molecular Ecology 23, 3695–3705.

Cole N, Mootoocurpen R, Nundlaul V (2018) Relative density estimates of Round Island’s reptiles. Journal of the Royal Society of Arts and Sciences of Mauritius, 1, 1-16.

Macfadeyn S, Gibson R, Symondson WOC, Memmott J (2011) Landscape structure influences modularity patterns in farm food webs: Consequences for pest control. Ecological Applications 21, 516-524.

Vaughan IP, Gotelli NJ, Memmott J, Pearson CE, Woodward G, Symondson WOC (2018) econullnetr: an R package using null models to analyse the structure of ecological networks and identify resource selection. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 9, 728-733.

Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership

Joint PhD training partnerships between the Natural History Museum and the Great Western Four, Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter universities.

Funded by