Niche evolution and trophic diversity in birds and mammals

A collage of six animals from the cat-like Feliformia suborder

Images from top left clockwise: Fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) by Ran Kirlian CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons; Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) by HaJo S CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons; Stripe-necked mongoose (Herpestes vitticollis) by Yathin sk CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons; Two-spotted palm civet (Nandinia binotata) by subhumanfreak CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons; African civet (Civettictis civetta) by Николай Усик CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons; Leopard (Panthera pardus) by Steve Garvie CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

This project will use global datasets to explore trophic niches from an evolutionary and macroecological perspective.

The studentship starts in October 2020 and is funded by NERC. 

Apply for this course

Read the eligibility criteria and application guidance below, then send your application to

Application deadline: 6 January 2020

Project background and aims

The trophic niche lies at the heart of ecosystem function. It is often defined in terms of diet and networks of biotic interactions, but also spans multiple further dimensions including microhabitat, climate and behaviour.

Previous research has tended to simplify or overlook the dimensionality of trophic niches largely because relevant data are lacking at macroecological scales. This has changed with the recent completion of global datasets, including diet and foraging strategy for birds and mammals.

This project will take several parallel approaches to explore these datasets from an evolutionary and macroecological perspective. The research will focus on birds and mammals because they are ecologically important and relatively well known in terms of geographic distribution, phylogeny, and trophic niches.

The student will have access to existing future range projections under climate change, as well as the PREDICTS database of land-use change impacts on global biodiversity.

Focusing on diet, microhabitat and foraging behaviour as key dimensions of the trophic niche, the main research goals are as follows:

  • Applying evolutionary models and phylogenetic comparative analyses to assess how trophic niches have evolved and diverged across birds and mammals.
  • Integrating trophic niche datasets with land-use change and climate change scenarios to understand patterns and predictors of trophic structure and functioning at global scales.
  • Developing biodiversity indicators and ecological forecasting models with improved accuracy and applications to environmental policy.


To be eligible for a full award a student must have:

  • British Citizenship or; 
  • Settled status in the UK, meaning they have no restrictions on how long they can stay,
  • Been ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the studentship - (For non-EU citizens, this must NOT have been in full time education.)
    This means they must have been normally residing in the UK (apart from temporary or occasional absences). This does not apply to UK nationals. 

For more information, download this PDF.

How to apply

Applications for the PhD are processed through the Natural History Museum.

To apply, please send the following documents to the Postgraduate Office:

  • Curriculum vitae
  • Covering letter outlining your interest in the PhD position, relevant skills training, experience and qualifications for the research, and a statement of how this PhD project fits your career development plans
  • Names of two academic referees

The deadline for applications is 6 January 2020.

Any questions?

If you have any questions about the project please contact

Main supervisor: Dr Andy Purvis


NHM/Imperial College London

Main supervisor: Dr Andy Purvis

Imperial College London

Co-supervisor: Dr Joseph Tobias

University College London

Co-supervisor: Dr Alex Pigot

Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet (SSCP) doctoral training partnership

This is a joint project between The Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet (SSCP) Doctoral Training Partnership at Imperial College London and The Natural History Museum.

Funded by