PhD: Pollination ecosystem service support by sustainable urban drainage聽systems via FindAPhD

Edinburgh Napier University

Edinburgh, UK 馃嚞馃嚙

About the Project



Pollination is a key ecosystem service, both in relation to crops and wild plants. Most research on pollination has focused on commercial bee species. However, hoverflies (Diptera: Syrphidae), many of which are linked to freshwaters, also play a major role and the relative importance of different pollinator groups is likely to vary between rural and urban areas.

This PhD is an exciting and timely opportunity to tackle important gaps in our understanding of hoverfly pollinators in urban areas. Using a range of field and laboratory-based methods, it will provide you with experience of a wide variety of modern research methods and transferable skills.

As a SUPER DTP student, you will benefit from inter-institutional support and shared training from 8 Scottish Universities, supported by our Graduate School and Postgraduate Professional Researcher Development Certificate (PG Cert.), to develop skills in communication, team-working and management. Training in coding/programming, data analyses and statistical modelling will be provided, as necessary. You will work with experts in ecology, taxonomy and DNA preparation/sequencing. There will be numerous opportunities to present at conferences. With the national/international network built through the PhD partnership and the gained skill set, you will have an excellent employment potential across a range of different environments/disciplines and sectors (e.g. academic, industry, regulatory) following graduation.

Project Background

Urban habitats are commonly characterised as species-poor, but certain urban land-uses such as gardens and allotments can support high diversity of pollinating species. Hoverflies have high species richness in urban areas and this is likely driven by a range of factors, including availability of egg-laying sites. Many ecologically important hoverflies in the UK, such as Eristalis, have aquatic larvae, with the majority of these inhabiting still or stagnant water. Urban ponds are therefore likely to be important contributors to pollinator communities, but their contribution has been poorly researched.

Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS) have been widely adopted by government and urban developers for their pollution retention/absorption role, biodiversity potential and vital adaptation to climate change and are mandated in all new developments in Scotland. These systems incorporate a range of freshwater habitats including ponds and shallow basins that invertebrates, including many common hoverfly species, can inhabit. Whilst SUDS sites represent a growing resource for urban biodiversity, their role in the framework of pollination ecosystem service provision has not yet been explicitly considered.

Identifying the principal habitat drivers of diversity of pollinators with aquatic larval stages has direct implications for the management of aquatic habitats. Whilst strongly influenced by physical environmental characteristics, many aquatic hoverfly species are highly pollution-tolerant in their larval stages. This characteristic may mean that they represent a more consistent pollinator resource in situations where terrestrial and/or aquatic environments are impacted, and other pollinator groups are reduced in abundance or diversity. This opens up the possibility that SUDS might mitigate other forms of habitat loss or damage, in addition to alleviating flooding due to extreme weather events.

The complex nature of aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats and cryptic larval habits makes accurate assessment of the hoverfly community challenging. The use of environmental DNA (eDNA) for identification of organisms present in a waterbody is an increasingly used tool in a wide range of environmental contexts and for a broad range of taxa. Whilst there has been previous work undertaken based on the terrestrial adult stages, the effectiveness of eDNA in determining hoverfly communities in freshwaters is unknown.

Project objectives to be developed by the student

1.           Examine variation in abundance and composition of pollinators in urban habitats with and without SUDS.

2.           Identify habitat and SUDS features, including physical and habitat characteristics, water quality, surrounding vegetation diversity, that are correlated with abundance and diversity of pollinators.

3.           Examine the predictors of recruitment of pollinators to artificial egg laying sites in urban habitats with and without SUDS.

4.           Employ eDNA techniques to survey aquatic pollinator larvae and compare results with traditional survey methods.

You will gain skills/experience in

路        design of experiments in and surveys of terrestrial and freshwater habitats

路        analysing eDNA from water samples; marker/primer selection, PCR-amplification, DNA library preparation, bioinformatics

路        advanced coding and multivariate statistics

路        using ecological data to make recommendations for policy and best practice

路        science communication with the public, government and industry

Academic qualifications

Applicants to the SUPER DTP are expected to have a minimum of a 2.1 honours degree (or equivalent) and preferably an MSc in a relevant area. Applicants with a 2.2 at honours level will be considered on the condition they have a masters at distinction.

Candidates must have a strong interest in and enthusiasm for ecology, entomology and habitat management. Good written and oral communication skills are essential. Additional training will be provided, but an expertise in statistical analysis using R, traditional taxonomy and experience of molecular work with DNA is highly desirable.

Applicants must be experienced drivers with a full, clean driving license. This will be essential for access to field sites.

Part-time study is an option, with a minimum of 50% of full-time effort being required. Edinburgh Napier University is committed to equality and diversity as part of our Widening Participation Strategy.

English language requirement

IELTS score must be at least 6.5 (with not less than 6.0 in each of the four components). Other, equivalent qualifications will be accepted. Full details of the University鈥檚 policy are available online.


When applying, please quote the application reference SAS0179 on your form.


路        Completed application form 

路        CV

路        2 academic references, using the Postgraduate Educational Reference Form (Found on the application process page)

路        A personal research statement (This should include (a) a brief description of your relevant experience and skills, (b) an indication of

路        What you would uniquely bring to the project and (c) a statement of how this project fits with your future direction.)

路        Evidence of proficiency in English (if appropriate)

Funding Notes

This 3.5 year (42 month) studentship covers:
– Tuition fees each year at Home (UK) rate
– A standard UKRI student stipend (for full-time study)
– Separate funding for research training and professional development


Baldock, K., et al. (2015) Where is the UK鈥檚 pollinator biodiversity? The im-portance of urban areas for flower-visiting insects. Proc. Roy. Soc. B. 282, 20142849.
Briers, R. (2014) Invertebrate communities and environmental conditions in a series of urban drainage ponds in eastern Scotland: implications for biodi-versity and conservation value of SUDS. CLEAN, 42, 193-200.
H盲nfling, B. et al. (2016) Environmental DNA metabarcoding of lake fish communities reflects long-term data from established survey methods. Mol. Ecol. 25, 3101鈥3119.





IHE Delft MSc in Water and Sustainable Development