Examining climate change impacts on tropical butterflies

Neptis ida by A.S.Kono CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Image cropped and extended

This project  will investigate the importance of climate and habitat changes on tropical butterflies’ range dynamics.

The studentship is part of the ACCE Doctoral Training Partnership, funded by NERC and starts October 2020.

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: 8 January 2020


Climate change is resulting in many species shifting their ranges, altering community composition at sites as some species colonise and other go locally extinct.

Rapid climate change, during a period of ongoing rainforest loss, makes it vital to determine effects on tropical biodiversity. Tropical rainforest species are expected to shift uphill to track climate, potentially leading to depauperate equatorial lowland areas because there is no pool of hotter-adapted species available to colonise these sites. However, studies are lacking and so impacts of climate change are hard to predict in tropical regions.

One reason for this poor knowledge is the lack of long-term empirical data, and this project will capitalise on the availability of museum specimens for understanding drivers of change in tropical ecosystems.

Aims and Methods

The project will focus on Sulawesi in Indonesia, which has been very well studied by entomologists ever since Alfred Russel Wallace visited in the 19th century. Approximately 40% of butterfly species are endemic to Sulawesi, and the project will use museum specimens, along with climate and land-cover information in order to:

  1. Quantify patterns of range shift over time, determining the role of climate in limiting species’ range boundaries, and projecting future distributions.
  2. Determine changes in species richness and community composition at sites, and whether changes have been greatest where forest condition and climate suitability have changed most.
  3. Examine changes in body size and wing morphology, and whether changes are greatest in endemic species, at locations that have warmed most, and in species that have shown least range shifting.

The project will capitalise on the extensive Natural History Museum butterfly collections, and use new statistical approaches for testing novel ecological questions of global importance, as well as providing information for policy makers tasked with understanding and mitigating impacts of environmental change.

The project will involve digitising NHM butterfly specimens and using novel modelling and analytical methods to examine range shifts and changes in community composition over time.

If the student is interested, there are also opportunities for field work to test model outputs with new field data.

The student will join a friendly and collaborative research group examining the ecological impacts of climate change and developing solutions for reducing biodiversity losses in tropical ecosystems.


The project will suit someone interested in investigating the relative importance of climate and habitat changes on tropical species’ range dynamics. 

Students with, or expecting to gain, at least an Upper Second Class Honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply. 

For informal discussion please contact the main supervisor Prof Jane Hill.

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.

How to apply

Applications for the PhD are processed though the University of York's online application service. More information on the application process and the documents you need to provide can be found on the university's Department of Biology webpages.

The deadline for applications is 8 January 2020. 

Any questions?

If you have any questions about the project please contact

Main supervisor: Prof Jane Hill


University of York

Main supervisor: Prof Jane Hill

Co-supervisor: Dr Colin Beale

The Natural History Museum

Co-supervisor: Dr Ian Kitching

Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH)

Co-supervisor: Dr Nick Isaac

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