Project Description

Urban areas are growing at a fast pace to accommodate the rural-to-urban area migration and to cope with increasing human population size. As a result, urban areas play an important role in the balance of our ecosystems, contributing to – or often, hampering – biodiversity conservation.

Green spaces in urban areas form islands where wild life could occupy amidst the ‘concrete jungle’, but only if these green spaces are designed to fully integrate the needs of the local biodiversity. Otherwise, urban areas can accentuate the risk of species extinction, by creating spaces that are essentially inhospitable for some species. For instance, urban green spaces may be artificially generated with non-native plants and/or low plant diversity, forcing native species to feed on plants which they are not adapted to and may, in many cases, not survive. This phenomenon has the potential to decrease the abundance of native diet specialists while increasing the abundance of non-native diet generalists (e.g., invasive species).

Thus, this project asks the question: ‘are green spaces in urban areas suitable for supporting biodiversity?’ 

The project will focus on insects, a group that is essential for the health of ecosystems but also a group that (1) is vulnerable to changes in the landscape (e.g., urbanisation) (2) have economic and public health roles in our societies (e.g., pests, mosquitoes) (3) have cultural importance (Duffus et al., 2021) and (4) have been overlooked in conservation policies and thus, have recently been the focus on ongoing debate as to its extinction risk (e.g., Duffus and Morimoto, 2022).  

The project will first sample the biodiversity of insects in two urban (Aberdeen and Belfast cities), peri-urban (shire) and nearby rural areas with a gradient from high to low landscape management (e.g., farms vs wilderness).  This will be done to characterise the baseline biodiversity of the sampling areas. Next, two focal generalist and two focal specialist insect species, which are present across all the sampling locations, will be chosen for the analysis of dietary choice. Specimens will be collected across the sampling locations and analysed for their dietary content, using next generation sequence for microbiome characterisation and DNA barcoding for diet breadth and diversity. This will enable us to characterise the diet choices of generalist and specialist insects across landscape management and urbanisation gradients.  

You will travel to and be based at Belfast (QUB) for approximately 25% of your time, carrying out field work in spring, summer and autumn. Approximately 75% of your time will be mainly or exclusively spent in School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen carrying out DNA barcoding, analysis, and all other aspects of the project. Sampling will be done with sweeping nets (e.g., butterflies), light traps (moths) and pitfall traps (e.g., beetles and other invertebrates). 

Essential & desirable candidate skills

Essential: Enthusiasm, critical thinking and organisational skills. Working with insects and willingness to learn both fieldwork and practical laboratory skills are essential. Creativity and problem-solving skills are also key for the success in this project. 

Desirable: Previous background in entomology, molecular biology, field sampling are desirable but not essential. 


Juliano Morimoto

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: Juliano Morimoto
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Paul Caplat

Secondary Supervisor:

Profile: Paul Caplat
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

David Burslem

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: David Burslem
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Marius Wenzel

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Marius Wenzel
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences


Herbertsson, L., Ekroos, J., Albrecht, M., Bartomeus, I., Batáry, P., Bommarco, R., … & Smith, H. G. (2021). Bees increase seed set of wild plants while the proportion of arable land has a variable effect on pollination in European agricultural landscapes. Plant ecology and evolution, 154(3), 341-350. 

Duffus, N. E., & Morimoto, J. (2022). Current conservation policies in the UK and Ireland overlook endangered insects and are taxonomically biased towards Lepidoptera. Biological Conservation, 266, 109464. 

Duffus, N. E., Christie, C. R., & Morimoto, J. (2021). Insect cultural services: how insects have changed our lives and how can we do better for them. Insects, 12(5), 377. 

Expected Training Provision

Assess invertebrate diversity with various sampling techniques to determine insect biodiversity across sampling locations. You will develop of a DNA fingerprint database of insect species in the study areas. 

Identification of species across life-stages, from larvae through to adult forms. 

Molecular analysis (including microbiome analysis) for dietary habits characterisation 


The project will provide insights into how green spaces in urban and peri-urban areas affect insect functional biodiversity. In doing so, the research will enable the construction of biodiversity-friendly green spaces within urban areas, fostering functional diversity of insect species that are essential to healthy ecosystems. We anticipate that the findings of this project will inform city councils across the UK on best practices to design and build green spaces taking into account the cost-benefit to local biodiversity needs. In turn, this can change how green spaces are immersed into the urban landscape, creating small islands that promote (rather than hinder) biodiversity. 

Proposed Timetable

Literature review (October – December 2023 (4 months) 

Belfast/Aberdeen Fieldwork. Set out pitfall traps, carry out suction trapping and environmental assessment (measuring vegetation, collect frass, seeds, identify invertebrates) (May to August 2023-25/4 months per year of sampling) 

Microbiome and barcoding pipeline establishment (July – December 2023/7 months) 

Continue fieldwork in Belfast (May to August 2024, 4months) 

Continue barcoding in Aberdeen (May to August 2024, 4months) 

Continue fieldwork in Belfast (May to August 2025, 4months) 

Continue barcoding in Aberdeen (May to August 2025, 4months) 

Data analysis with pipelines developed in year 1 (2024-25, Aug – December, 5 months) 

Write up in Aberdeen (January to March 2025/3 months) 


  • biodiversity
  • earth-systems
  • environmental-management


Not applicable at this time.

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