PhD Opportunity

To start October 2019

How The information structure of ecological communities quantitatively affects their ecological function.

Biodiversity-ecosystem function relations ((BEFRs) are central to ecology, economic value and conservation. They have only been quantified for foodwebs and plant communities to-date: excluding parasitism and mutualism and with no explicit account of network structure. Presently we have no quantitative measure of ecological structure - the network of interactions - and its effect on BEFRs. Great anticipation was generated this summer by three recent papers developing a method using information metrics, including very recent developments from brain research (Integrated Information (IIT)- Tononi et al.) and chemistry (entropic capacity - by Tom Shneider). The race is on to apply this approach to real ecological communities.

autocatalytic ecosystem

In this project, dynamic models of known communities will be built using mathematical software (such as Matlab or Mathematica). These account for biomass, using differential equations. For any set of interacting species, there are potentially several configurations of interaction and a wide range of quantitative interaction rates. Dynamic equilibrium states will be found for each of the communities built. Community structures will be quantified in terms of entropy metrics and IIT. Results will be related to production rate and niche packing efficiency to form BEFRs of community structure. This quantifies ‘hidden’ diversity and the the extent to which a community is a coherent whole; answering a centuries-old puzzle of practical importance and urgency.

This project will be co-supervised by Chris Antonopoulos of Essex University, co-wrote the following paper of great relevance to the  project:

Dynamical complexity in the C.elegans neural network. 2016.
Antonopoulos, C.G. and Fokas, A.S. and Bountis, T. C.  Eur. Phys. J. 225, 1255-1269.

It will also be linked in with the sDiv group

network maths   network equivalents

Lots more information about this on the IFB website (where you are now).

By the way - a PhD in mathematical biology is regarded extremely well by employers in science, engineering, finance and management: in fact it is one of the most sought after of all proven capabilities.

Your lead supervisor / advisor will be:

Dr Keith Farnsworth,
School of Biological Sciences,
Queen's University Beflast MBC 97 Lisburn Road,
Belfast BT97BL,
United Kingdom.

Email: k.farnsworth (at)

team photo

Would you like to join us? (actually this is a photo from 2014, most of these people have moved on now: Tak on the left was a PhD student and is now a professional sceintist Singapore National University, Olga, next to him, is now the lead scientific computing postdoc at a university in Ireland, Jen is now a mathematical modelling specialist for a big insurance company, Axel (first beard) is Reader in Aquatic Biology at Queen Mary College London, Deirdre is a senior researcher now based in Bali, and then there's me).

(If you contact me by email, please mention IFB PhD in the subject, thanks).