Project proposal details

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Project title
Are insects declining? Towards a threat-response model of insect biodiversity in the Anthropocene
Contact name
Andy Purvis
Project based at
Natural History Museum
Imperial contact email
Project description
A growing literature points to sharp, possibly widespread, declines in insect biodiversity. However, the best-known claims of 'insect Armageddon' (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320718313636) are overblown (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ece3.5153) - and current understanding is hampered by fragmentary evidence and limited data linking insect diversity to the anthropogenic threats that drive change. Projects under this title would marshal and synthesise published data to estimate threat-response models that will fill the knowledge gap. Many different projects are possible. Some would fill taxonomic and geographic gaps in the PREDICTS database (a global compilation of how ecological communities respond to land use and related threats: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ece3.2579), and focus on how insects respond to threats related to land-use change. Such projects would involve obtaining the raw data behind suitable published studies, adding them to the PREDICTS database, and using mixed-effects models to estimate how land-use and related pressures affect various aspects of insect diversity.

Other projects would synthesise published results (rather than the underlying data) into novel meta-analyses of insect responses to other threats (with the threats classified according to IUCN: https://www.iucnredlist.org/resources/threat-classification-scheme). Text-mining could be explored as a way to identify published sources of data and automate the extraction of key results for meta-analysis.

The range of projects spans from entomology to data science, with most involving some of each. Longer (9-month) project will be developed to have two distinct analytical parts to ensure a broad skill set. Each student's project would be designed to be able to stand alone, but the data and metadata assembled during each project will contribute to the overall threat-response model needed to adequately understand the scale, scope and consequences of insect declines. The lab holds weekly meetings, fortnightly journal club and a series of workshops on transferable research skills (e.g., reading the literature, thesis writing, giving presentations), in addition to weekly supervisor meetings. Project students will be authors on the resulting databases and on at least one analytical paper (see, e.g., https://www.nature.com/articles/nature14324), plus of course being first author on any paper that comes directly from their Masters project.
Additional requirements
A wide range of projects is available, and training will be provided by the project team in all the relevant technical skills. Fluency in languages other than English could open up data sources that would otherwise be inaccessible.
Available support
All the money the host lab gets for the project will be made available to help with travel costs to NHM, where the project is based, and perhaps to visit project partners elsewhere in the UK or attend a conference to present results.
Selection and eligibility
If interested, please email Andy Purvis (andy.purvis@nhm.ac.uk), with a CV if you have one, to fix up a meeting to discuss possible directions for the project. (This project title can take multiple students working on different regions, sampling methods or taxonomic groups.)
Date uploaded
2020-11-10

Project proposal limitations

The project proposer has indicated that there are some limitations to the availability of this project. It may only be available at certain times of year or suit a specific project length. It may also need skills taught to students on a particular course or courses.

Research project proposals are usually part of an active research programme. If supervisors have stated limitations to a proposal, then they are unlikely to have any flexibility. If you are very interested in the topic but have problems with the stated limitations, the supervisor may still be happy to talk to you about other options around the proposal, but you should not expect that any alternative arrangements can be made.

Project length limitations
3.5 months, 5 months, 9 months