DPhil opportunity: Using Positive Deviance to identify and understand UK farmland biodiversity successes

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017. Posted by Owen Lewis.


Lindsay Turnbull (Plant Sciences, University of Oxford); EJ Milner-Gulland (Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science, Zoology Department, University of Oxford); Barbara Smith (Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, Coventry University); Alfred Gathorne-Hardy (Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development, Somerville College, University of Oxford) and Owen Lewis (Community Ecology Research Group, Zoology Department, University of Oxford)

Project description:

Present efforts to reduce the rate of loss of UK farmland biodiversity are by and large failing. A new approach is needed. This interdisciplinary PhD uses Positive Deviance (PD) to identify the social and environmental factors associated with higher levels of farmland biodiversity than would be expected, based on the characteristics of the farm (e.g. which part of the country it is in, or whether the farmer is a member of a higher level stewardship scheme). Through understanding why some farms seem to exceed expectations, you will identify 1) the land management strategies implemented by PD farmers and 2) the social and behavioural factors that underlie these strategies. A country-wide assessment of PD in existing large-scale datasets will lead to a more detailed analysis of PD within a region based on existing data and field assessments, and then to a more qualitative understanding of the factors underlying PD in individual cases. This hierarchical approach will give a nuanced understanding of the factors underpinning PD at a range of scales.
The PD approach has not been previously used in ecology, and is just starting to be applied in conservation (e.g. Cinner et al, 2016 Nature). Hence this is an exciting early application of a methodology that takes a positive approach to understanding and scaling up conservation success.

This project will give the student skills which are highly applicable to a wide range of interdisciplinary questions in conservation (including ecological and social fieldwork, statistical modelling, GIS and analysis of big datasets) and will produce a novel and high profile study with relevance to policymakers in the UK and worldwide.

Student profile:

We are seeking a student with a strong background in ecology, conservation science or related disciplines, i.e. a student with a good undergraduate degree and preferably a good Master’s degree. The project would particularly suit someone who has experience of ecological and/or social fieldwork, a keen interest in natural history, and who wants to apply their knowledge to real-world situations. Strong statistical skills are also desirable. You will work closely with farmers and conservation groups, and engage with landowners and regulatory bodies, so good communication skills are essential. Experience with outreach or conservation practice would be helpful. The student must be ready to start in October 2017.


More information and how to apply