Project Description

A full project description can be found on Find a PhD. Please see below for additional information about this project:

This project combines global macroecology, evolutionary biology, conservation biology and bioinformatics under a ‘big data’ science approach, thus tackling questions that transcend the boundaries of any single field. The theoretical and technical demands of the project rest upon the internationally-influential expertise that the three supervisors bring together. Dr Daniel Pincheira-Donoso’s work combines evolutionary theory and macroecology to address questions about the evolution and extinctions of biodiversity [1, 2]. Dr David Fisher studies how networks of interactions can influence ecological and evolutionary processes [3, 4]. Dr Neil Reid focuses on applied biodiversity conservation [5, 6].

Essential skills

  • previous research experience in ecology, evolution, bioinformatics, or zoology;
  • confident with collection, management, and quantitative analysis of databases;
  • excellent communication and writing skills.

Desirable skills

  • A range of personal features including independence, problem-solving skills, and drive;
  • experience with the software R;
  • familiar with the software ArcGIS.


Photo by Roberto García-Roa.


Daniel Pincheira-Donoso

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: Daniel Pincheira-Donoso
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

David N. Fisher

Secondary Supervisor:

Profile: David N. Fisher
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Neil Reid

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Neil Reid
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences


[1] Pincheira-Donoso, D. & Hunt, J. (2017) Fecundity selection theory: concepts and evidence. Biological Reviews, 92: 341–356.
[2] Roll, U. et al. (2017) The global distribution of tetrapods reveals a need for targeted reptile conservation. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 1: 1677–1682.
[3] Fisher, D. N., Kilgour, R. J., Siracusa, E. R., Foote, J. R., Hobson, E. A., Montiglio, P., Saltz, J. B., Wey, T. W., & Wice, E. W. (2021). Anticipated effects of abiotic environmental change on intraspecific social interactions. Biological Reviews, doi: 10.1111/brv.12772.
[4] Fisher, D. N., Haines, J. A., Boutin, S., Dantzer, B., Lane,J. E., Coltman, D W., and McAdam, A G. (2019) Indirect effects on fitness between individuals that have never met via an extended phenotype. Ecology Letters, 22, 697-706.
[5] Reyne, M., Nolan, M., McGuiggan, H., Aubry, A., Emmerson, M., Marnell, F. & Reid, N. (2021) Artificial agri-environment scheme ponds do not replicate natural environments despite higher aquatic and terrestrial invertebrate richness and abundance. Journal of Applied Ecology 58: 304-315.
[6] Reid, N., Brommer, J. E., Stenseth, N. C., Marnell, F., McDonald, R. A. & Montgomery, W.I. (2021) Regime shift tipping point in hare population collapse associated with climatic and agricultural change during the very early 20th century. Global Change Biology 27: 3732-3740.


This project spans the conceptual-applied spectrum of ecological research, from a pure focus on the evolutionary foundations underlying global patterns of biodiversity, to the re-analyses of paradigmatic perceptions on the distributions of ‘hotspots’ of biodiversity and extinctions. As such, our results are anticipated to exert a significant impact on our general understanding of the organisation of biodiversity, and more importantly, on the development of policies designed/implemented based on these paradigms of biodiversity organisation, by promoting the inclusion of daily activity rhythms into biodiversity research.
This expectation is supported by the results from our pilot analyses, which show that the hotspots of nocturnal and diurnal species extinctions quantified separately in fact deviate from our existing knowledge about global hotspots of extinctions based on ‘total’ counts of species per region. Further, the PI has demonstrated experience in challenging existing conservation policies by re-assessing patterns/processes of biodiversity with approaches that avoid the traditional practice of treating all organisms as equivalent (e.g., by segregating biodiversity according to their thermoregulatory physiology [Nature Ecol Evol 2017; PNAS 2018; Global Ecol Biogeogr 2013, 2017, 2020, 2021], their life histories [Global Ecol Biogeogr 2013, 2021]).
We aim to show that the implementation of our approach (treating ‘nocturnal biodiversity’ and ‘diurnal biodiversity’ as independent forms of biodiversity) will prompt the re-assessment of our longstanding views about the distribution of biodiversity and extinction hotspots across other organisms. In doing so, we aim to show that some currently established ‘conservation priority’ areas will need to be re-assessed as they ignore that in the same region the ‘nocturnal biodiversity’ may, for example, be significantly less endangered than the ‘diurnal biodiversity’ (this is in fact one of the findings from our pilot studies).

Proposed Timetable

The project consists of four main stages spread across 42 months (M1-42):

  1. M1-8: Work will concentrate on building capacities/resources, including intense development of conceptual skills (literature, core theories and knowledge gaps), organisation of the global database that will be used for the project, and development of analytical skills (R, ArcGIS).
  2. M7-9: Development of specific research plan/milestones. At this stage, the student will propose the plan of work (tests of hypotheses/predictions organised in proposed chapters). This stage will prepare the student and project for the Differentiation assessment.
  3. M9-36: Focus on building statistical models guided by plan envisaged at stage (2), and computation of models for generation of results. This is the main period of data-based research of the PhD.
  4. M13-42: Preparation of manuscripts/chapters. This stage strongly overlaps with stage (3) as manuscripts will be prepared as results emerge according to the plan developed during stage (2). It is envisaged that the first data manuscript/chapter will consist of the spatial analysis of distribution of biodiversity hotspots based on a newly available global database covering >99.5% of the world’s amphibians species created by the PI, followed by re-assessments of classic macroecological theories (e.g., latitudinal diversity gradients, life history evolution, Bergmann’s rule), to finally conclude with global analyses of the distribution of hotspots of extinction.


  • biodiversity
  • environmental-management

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