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PhD: Where will further Key Biodiversity Areas be identified? A modelling approach to focus efforts (Inspire4Nature H2020-MSCA-ITN)

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    Sapienza Università di Roma
    Biological sciencesBiodiversity
    First Stage Researcher (R1)
    23/04/2018 17:00 - Europe/Brussels
    Italy › Roma
    H2020 / Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions

This project will use species data for Key Biodiversity Areas in at least 10 Biodiversity Hotspots worldwide to develop predictions of where as-yet-undescribed KBAs may exist. Based at Sapienza Università di Roma (Rome, Italy), with secondments to BirdLife International (Cambridge, UK; 10.8 months).

This is Project 13 out of 15 PhD positions currently available as part of the Inspire4Nature training programme. Deadline for applications: 23 April 2018.

PhD topic

Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) are 'sites contributing significantly to the global persistence of biodiversity’, in terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems (IUCN 2016). The Global Standard for the Identification of Key Biodiversity Areas (IUCN 2016) sets out globally agreed criteria for the identification of KBAs worldwide. Sites qualify as global KBAs if they meet one or more of 11 criteria, clustered into five categories: threatened biodiversity; geographically restricted biodiversity; ecological integrity; biological processes; and, irreplaceability. Although not all KBA criteria may be relevant to all elements of biodiversity, the thresholds associated with each of the criteria may be applied across all taxonomic groups (other than micro-organisms) and ecosystems (IUCN 2016). Most of the c. 15,500 currently recognised Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) have been identified using data on birds, the taxon for which data are more readily available (BirdLife International 2018). The KBA programme, launched in 2016 by the KBA Partnership KBA Partnership (including BirdLife International and IUCN) is stimulating effort to identify KBAs for a range of additional vertebrate, invertebrate and plant taxa, many of which are very poorly known in terms of their distribution and abundance. The distribution of existing KBAs is likely to be structured by variables such as altitude, habitat, climate, or levels of human disturbance. Understanding this structure can therefore guide efforts for identifying future new KBAs in poorly known regions and for poorly studied taxa. This project will use species data for KBAs in at least 10 Biodiversity Hotspots worldwide, including data for birds, other vertebrates and selected plant and invertebrate groups, to i) understand the physical, environmental and human variables affecting KBA distribution; ii) explore the utility of Extent of Suitable Habitat maps for identifying KBAs under the different KBA, particularly criterion E, and iii) use the results of the previous two modules to develop predictions of where as-yet-undescribed KBAs may exist in order to focus future KBA identification efforts.

Related references

  • BirdLife International (2018) The World Database of Key Biodiversity Areas. Developed by the Key Biodiversity Areas Partnership: BirdLife International, IUCN, Amphibian Survival Alliance, Conservation International, Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, Global Environment Facility, Global Wildlife Conservation, NatureServe, Rainforest Trust, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, World Wildlife Fund and Wildlife Conservation Society. Available at http://www.keybiodiversityareas.org.
  • Butchart, SHM, et al. Global biodiversity: indicators of recent declines. Science 328.5982 (2010): 1164-1168.
  • IUCN. (2012). IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria: Version 3.1. Second edition. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK: IUCN. iv + 32pp.
  • IUCN. (2016). A global standard for the identification of Key Biodiversity Areas. Gland, Switzerland.
  • Rondinini, C, et al. (2011). Global habitat suitability models of terrestrial mammals. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 366.1578: 2633-2641.

Institutional context and supervision

The PhD student will be hired by the Global Mammal Assessment (GMA) programme at Sapienza Università di Roma, the largest University in Europe, and enrolled as a PhD candidate at the Doctoral Program in Environmental and Evolutionary Biology. The student will be physically based at the GMA lab in the Zoology building (Sapienza), in Rome, Italy. The GMA is the leading conservation group operating in the Department of Biology and Biotechnologies. The academic supervisor of the project will be Carlo Rondinini, coordinator of the GMA and Research Scientist.

This project is in close collaboration with BirdLife International, the world’s largest nature conservation partnership, whose work focuses on the conservation of birds, their habitats and global biodiversity. The student will interact in strongly with the Science, Policy and Information Management Department, which carries out research to underpin the conservation programmes of the BirdLife Partnership, identifying priorities for policy and action. There, s/he will be supervised by Paul F. Donald (Global Science Coordinator), in collaboration with Stuart Butchart (Chief Scientist). The student will spend 10.8 months at the BirdLife's headquarters in Cambridge, UK, in the David Attenborough Building. This building houses nine conservation organisations and several departments of the University of Cambridge, who together form the Cambridge Conservation Initiative.

Ideal candidate

Candidates must meet all the general eligibility conditions applicable to all Inspire4Nature PhD positions, as described under “check if you are eligible” in this page. In particular: candidates cannot have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in Italy for more than 12 months within the previous 3 years, and must be early-stage researchers (no PhD yet, within the first 4 years of their research careers). In addition:

Required for this position:

  • An enthusiasm for Science in general and for Ecology in particular.
  • A commitment to biodiversity conservation.
  • A strong academic record in Ecology or a related field.
  • A Master's Degree or equivalent.
  • Having previously completed at least one individual research project lasting ≥ 3 months (e.g. a Master’s thesis).
  • Good proficiency in English: at least B2 level in understanding, speaking and writing as defined by the European Language Levels Self-Assessment Grid.
  • Proficiency in the R language, GIS software (GRASS GIS, ArcGIS/QGIS), Bash programming languages.
  • Experience in species distribution modelling, extinction risk analysis, KBA criteria
  • Good knowledge of statistical analyses.
  • Good collaborative skills.

Desirable for this position:

  • Conversational skills in Italian and/or Spanish.
  • Experience in scientific communication and outreach.

Shortlisted candidates will be invited for an interview planned for the 6th-8th June - please keep these dates open.

Useful links


For any questions regarding application procedures, check this page first. If you cannot find your answer there, contact us. For any questions regarding the scientific content and institutional context of the PhD, contact Dr. Carlo Rondinini.

Ready to apply?

For the instructions on how to prepare and submit your application, go to this page. Pay close attention to the specificities of the application procedure for positions with Sapienza University of Rome: besides the documents required to apply to all Inspire4Nature positions, you will need to fill additional forms specific to the University of Rome. You should then submit your application file directly by email to the University of Rome.

Only applications that are complete, in English, that respect the instructions in this page and that have been submitted before the deadline (23 April 2018) will be considered eligible.

Work location(s)
1 position(s) available at
Sapienza Università di Roma
Viale dell'Università 32

EURAXESS offer ID: 281263