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


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 rewilding 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).

High-resolution biodiversity assessments are needed to understand the impacts of rewilding projects. Organisms leave traces of DNA in their environment, for example via shed cells and waste matter. This “environmental DNA” or “eDNA” can be analysed to detect single species or entire assemblages of species. eDNA is a rapidly developing technology that is revolutionising the way we monitor biodiversity (see e.g. Deiner et al., 2017 for a review). At the University of Hull, we have pioneered the use of eDNA for monitoring communities of fish (e.g. Hänfling et al., 2016; Lawson Handley et al., 2019), mammals (e.g. Harper, Lawson Handley, Carpenter, et al., 2019), amphibians (e.g. Harper, Lawson Handley, Hahn, et al., 2019) and invertebrates (e.g. Blackman et al., 2020; Harper et al., 2020). This studentship will use this technology to understand the impacts of rewilding projects on whole communities, at a landscape scale.

We will work closely with stakeholders involved in rewilding projects, including AECOM and The Lifescape Project at the Natural Capital Laboratory in Scotland, to deliver evidence to support their conservation programmes. The broad objectives of the project are to:

  1. Ground truth eDNA methods against conventional survey methods for producing comprehensive biodiversity inventories
  2. Investigate the impacts of rewilding on taxonomic and functional diversity, and on the structure and resilience of food webs
  3. Assess the success, impact and public perception of species reintroduction, using pine martens as a case study.

We are looking for an enthusiastic student with the following qualities: i) an interest in working closely with stakeholders, to deliver evidence for conservation and policy, ii) some experience of community and/or molecular ecology, including biodiversity monitoring, iii) an interest and ability to work effectively in both the field and lab, iv) a proficiency in, or willingness to become proficient in data analysis using R.

You will be part of a collaborative, multidisciplinary and nurturing environment to help realise your potential, and will be provided with excellent opportunities for external networking. We will hold regular monthly meetings with the entire cluster, with opportunities to present and discuss research, invite internal and external speakers and collaborators and foster networking.

For informal enquiries, please contact Dr Lori Lawson Handley.

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


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

Effective Biodiversity Monitoring of River Rewilding Projects Using eDNA Modelling

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:

Deiner, K. et al. (2017) ‘Environmental DNA metabarcoding: Transforming how we survey animal and plant communities’, Molecular ecology, 26(21), pp. 5872–5895. doi: 10.1111/mec.14350.

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.

Jepson, P., and Blythe, C. (2020) Rewilding: the radical new science of ecological recovery. Icon Books 

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.