The ecological and evolutionary consequences of tropicalisation

The aim of this project is to investigate key knowledge gaps on the ecological and evolutionary consequences of tropicalisation. 

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

Apply for this course

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

Application deadline: 3 January 2020.


Climate warming is creating novel ecological communities whereby species compositions and interactions differ from a historical baseline. Notably, tropical marine species are being documented in temperate biogeographic regions, while the ranges of temperate species are shifting poleward.

This phenomenon is known as ‘tropicalisation’. Yet very little is known of its ecological and evolutionary consequences. For instance, we do not know if temperate prey species are able to defend themselves against tropical marine predators nor how the influx of tropical predators affects community composition ('top-down' effects).

Tropicalisation may also have genetic/evolutionary consequences. For example, range contracting temperate species may experience an overall loss of genetic diversity and disappearance of unique genetic clades - which in turn may have consequences on the capacity for species to adapt to climate warming and future evolutionary trajectories (i.e. extinction risk).

This PhD will draw from a wide variety of disciplines and theory, ranging from predator induced defenses/predator-prey interactions/community ecology to molecular phylogeography and phylogenetics to address key knowledge gaps on the ecological and evolutionary consequences of tropicalisation.

The project will focus on a transition zone between tropical and temperate biogeographic regions where tropicalisation has been preliminarily documented but its consequences have not been established.


Field surveys of species occurrence and diversity will be paired with historic collections from natural history museums and literature surveys to firmly establish the geographic extent of tropicalisation across the transition zone between tropical and temperate biogeographic regions.

These results will be paired with a survey of the palaeontological literature and museum collections to compare modern species range change and diversity with the deeper past (last interglacial, ~125Kya).

Research will focus on rocky shore gastropods, but there is scope to include other marine invertebrate taxa as well. Field experiments will be set up across the transition region to assess the influence of tropical predators upon temperate prey and communities (e.g. phenotypic and behavioural adaptations, and changes in community composition).

The student will assess the evolutionary consequences of range contraction of temperate species using phylogeographic and population genetic methods. For example, the student will assess if range contraction of temperate species is leading to a significant reduction in genetic diversity and unique genetic clades.

This project will be conducted in collaboration with international scientists and collection permits will be obtained under the guidelines of the international countries where the field research will be conducted. 

Supervision and training

The INSPIRE 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 both the University of Southampton (National Oceanography Centre) and the Natural History. Specific training will include: courses in molecular phylogenetics/phylogeography, statistics, biogeographical modelling, scientific writing, and public speaking/presentation.

There will also be opportunities to develop teaching through guest lectures and demonstration on field and lecture-based modules. Travel to international scientific meetings to present project results will also be encouraged. 


Each INSPIRE project comes with a 3.5 year fully funded studentship for UK students and EU students who meet the RCUK eligibility criteria. Stipend in line with RCUK stipend levels.

To be eligible for a full award (stipend and fees), a student must satisfy all of these conditions:

  • Settled status in the UK, meaning they have no restrictions on how long they can stay.
  • Been ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK for three years prior to the start of the grant. This means they must have been normally residing in the UK (apart from temporary or occasional absences).
  • Not been residing in the UK wholly or mainly for the purpose of full-time education. (This does not apply to UK or EU nationals.)

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

Applications are made through the University of Southampton's Online Application Form. The University has detailed guidance on how to apply.

In summary, 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.

General enquiries should be directed to the  GSNOCS (Graduate School of the National Oceanography Centre Southampton) team on

The deadline for applications is 3 January 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: Dr Phillip Fenberg


University of Southampton

Main supervisor: Dr Phillip Fenberg

Natural History Museum

Co-supervisor: Dr Suzanne Williams


Fenberg, P.B. & Rivadeneira, M. M. (2019). On the importance of habitat continuity for delimiting biogeographic regions and shaping richness gradients.
Ecology Letters. 22: 664-673.

Fenberg, P.B., Posbic, K., Hellberg, M.E. (2014). Historical and recent processes shaping the geographic range of a rocky intertidal gastropod: phylogeography, ecology, and habitat availability.
Ecology and Evolution 4: 3244-3255.

Claremont, M., Vermeij, GJ., Williams, S.T., Reid, D.G. (2013). Global phylogeny and new classification of the Rapaninae (Gastropoda: Muricidae), dominant molluscan predators on tropical rocky seashores.
Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 66: 91-102.

Interdisciplinary Southampton Partnership for Investigators Researching the Environment

This is a joint PhD training partnership between the Natural History Museum and INSPIRE, 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