Effective Biodiversity Monitoring of River Rewilding Projects Using eDNA Modelling


Funded PhD


3 years (full-time) 5 years (part-time)

Application deadline:

Midnight 31 January 2022

About this project

Applications are invited for a fully funded PhD studentship assessing the impacts of species re-introduction in river ecosystems using environmental DNA, as part of the University of Hull’s REWILD Research cluster (see “About the research cluster” below for more details of the cluster).

The re-introduction of keystone species is a key component of the rewilding process. The trophic cascades triggered by such events entail fundamental changes to the biotic and sometimes abiotic components of the ecosystem, which are extremely difficult to predict. Rewilding projects therefore need to be accompanied by effective and comprehensive biodiversity monitoring programmes. The use of environmental DNA (eDNA) has been shown to be highly effective for such purposes and at the University of Hull we have established eDNA work flows for monitoring communities of fish, mammals, amphibians and invertebrates (e.g. Hänfling et al., 2016; Lawson Handley et al., 2019: Harper et al. 2019. Blackman et al., 2020; Harper et al., 2020). In river ecosystems the spatial resolution of these methods is currently restricted because of eDNA dispersal in the environment, but a recent study has shown that eDNA transport models can account for these processes (Cararro et al 2021). The studentship will apply such approaches to understand the impact of species reintroductions in river ecosystems.

We will work closely with stakeholders involved in river rewilding projects such as the Rivers Trust and Natural England and case studies may include the reintroduction of the burbot to the river Wissey and the removal of migration barriers in the River Severn allowing natural recolonisation with the twaite shad. The broad objectives of the project are to:

  1. Further develop existing ecological models to accurately predict the distribution of river biodiversity from an eDNA signal.
  2. Apply these models to rewilding case studies to produce spatially explicit data on species distribution after reintroduction events and to predict the impact on the broader ecosystem

We are looking for an enthusiastic student with the following qualities: i) some experience of community and/or molecular ecology, including biodiversity monitoring ii) a proficiency in, or willingness to become proficient in ecological modelling and data analysis iii) an interest and ability to work effectively in both the field and lab.

For informal enquiries, please contact Dr Bernd Haenfling.

About the REWILD research cluster


REWILD: understanding ecological, environmental and societal costs and benefits of rewilding.

We are experiencing a global climate and biodiversity crisis. Closer to home, more than half of UK species are in decline and a further 15% threatened with extinction. Rewilding - the large-scale restoration of ecosystems by allowing reinstatement of natural processes and missing species - is seen as one potential solution for the protection and recovery of ecosystems. The rewilding of terrestrial, freshwater and marine habitats can make a critical contribution to carbon sequestration, flood mitigation, water quality, biodiversity, and human wellbeing. However rewilding can also be highly controversial, with conflicts arising because of competing interests of different stakeholder groups. The REWILD research cluster at the University of Hull is a multidisciplinary team of researchers across biology, environmental science, psychology and systems thinking, working with diverse stakeholders to collectively understand the ecological, environmental and societal costs and benefits of rewilding. Our 6 PhD studentships focus on understanding i) the impacts of rewilding projects on biodiversity, sedimentation rates and carbon sequestration dynamics, ii) the community benefits of blue spaces, and the perceptions, values and challenges of rewilding the sea, and iii) how animal “personalities” drive public perceptions of species reintroductions.

Click here to watch a recording of our recent webinar about this funded postgraduate research opportunity.  You'll hear from programme leaders, supervisors, and students and listen to queries from other applicants in the Q&A.


Other PhDs in this cluster


Uncovering the Biodiversity Impacts of Rewilding on Entire Ecological Communities at a Landscape Scape Using Environmental DNA

Greening Blue Spaces in Hull

Understanding Environmental Adaptability in Wild Mammalian Carnivores: a Multidisciplinary Perspective

Optimising Blue Carbon Storage in Estuaries Using Rewilding and Eco-engineering Approaches

Rewilding the Sea: Perceptions, Values and Challenges

Watch: find out more about postgraduate study at the University of Hull

Watch the video


The successful applicant will receive a fee waiver and a maintenance grant/stipend for three years (full time) or five years (part-time), which covers the research period of the PhD. The fee waiver for 21/22 is £4,500 (Home fee) and the maintenance grant is £15,609. This rises each year in line with the UKRI’s recommended stipend allowance.

Submission of thesis

Submission of your final thesis is expected within three years and three months from the start of your PhD scholarship for full time and within five years and six months if studying part-time.

If you need to move into a fourth year (full time) or sixth year (part-time) to complete your thesis, please note that you will not receive a tuition fee waiver or maintenance grant during this period.

Entry requirements

A minimum of a BSc(Hons) degree (2:1 class), in biology, ecology, zoology or a related subject is required. A Masters degree (taught or research) in a related subject (e.g. ecology, conservation biology, environmental management) or relevant experience would be an advantage.

For more details on our entry requirements please visit the postgraduate admissions webpage.

This scholarship is available for full-time and part-time study.

Research training

As a PhD student here at the University of Hull you will undertake the Postgraduate Training Scheme alongside your main degree, to help you develop the research skills and knowledge you’ll need in your future career. You will gain a Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma in Research Training in addition to your PhD.

International applicants

This opportunity comes with a home fee waiver only.

How to apply

You will need to supply a personal statement when applying for this scholarship position. Find out more about writing a personal statement. Please also ensure you include the following information:

  1. What motivates you to pursue PhD study
  2. Why you are interested in this project
  3. How your skill set matches the requirements for your choice of project and/or any additional training you will need
  4. The wider significance of research in this area and potential future research directions for the project.

Apply now

Apply for this scholarship: Full time | Part-time 

Closing date: Midnight on Monday 31 January 2022.

Further reading

Blackman, R. C. et al. (2020) ‘Targeted and passive environmental DNA approaches outperform established methods for detection of quagga mussels, Dreissena rostriformis bugensis in flowing water’, Ecology and evolution, 10(23), pp. 13248–13259. doi: 10.1002/ece3.6921.

Carraro, L., Stauffer, J. B. & Altermatt, F. (2021). How to design optimal eDNA sampling strategies for biomonitoring in river networks. Environmental DNA 3, 157-172

Hänfling, B. et al. (2016) ‘Environmental DNA metabarcoding of lake fish communities reflects long-term data from established survey methods’, Molecular ecology, 25(13), pp. 3101–3119. doi: 10.1111/mec.13660. 

Harper, L. R., Lawson Handley, L., Carpenter, A. I., et al. (2019) ‘Environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding of pond water as a tool to survey conservation and management priority mammals’, Biological conservation, 238, p. 108225. doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2019.108225.

Harper, L. R., Lawson Handley, L., Hahn, C., et al. (2019) ‘Generating and testing ecological hypotheses at the pondscape with environmental DNA metabarcoding: A case study on a threatened amphibian’, Environmental DNA, 60, p. 255. doi: 10.1002/edn3.57.

Harper, L. R. et al. (2020) ‘Assessing the impact of the threatened crucian carp ( Carassius carassius ) on pond invertebrate diversity: A comparison of conventional and molecular tools’, Molecular Ecology. doi: 10.1111/mec.15670.

Lawson Handley, L. et al. (2019) ‘Temporal and spatial variation in distribution of fish environmental DNA in England’s largest lake’, Environmental DNA, 1(1), pp. 26–39. doi: 10.1002/edn3.5.