Open positions

Position 1: PhD student in metacommunity and evolutionary drivers of resilience

School of Biological Sciences
University of Canterbury, New Zealand

About the project

There is an upcoming opening for one PhD student in the labs of Prof. Jason Tylianakis and Dr. Jonathan Tonkin at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand, to work in collaboration with and funded by the Principal Investigators in Bioprotection Aotearoa Centre of Research Excellence.

Project background

Species interactions influence how they adapt to the environment, and the interactions themselves are subject to evolutionary, coevolutionary and spatial (metacommunity) processes. While pest outbreaks are typically rare (insect herbivores are suppressed by natural enemies) climate change can alter this suppression. Moreover, the presumed long-term stability of biocontrol has been challenged by our team’s recent research that demonstrates evolution of pest resistance to enemies. As evolution against enemies can influence responses to environmental extremes, and climate can influence mechanisms of coevolution, the evolution of pest resistance to enemies will be influenced by population and community source-sink spatial processes that occur alongside environmental stressors. This position is part of a broader project entitled “Understanding metacommunity and evolutionary drivers of resilience to pests”, in which we aim to understand how the spatial arrangement of land uses influences species interactions (focusing on biological pest management as the context), with a vision to developing guidelines for maintaining the evolutionary resilience of biological control under environmental change.

See also:
1. Tylianakis J.M. & Maia L.F. (2020) Eco-evolutionary dynamics: The patchwork of evolutionary landscapes. Nature Ecology and Evolution. 4, 672-673.
2. Tomasetto F., Tylianakis J.M., Reale M., Wratten S.D. & Goldson S.L. (2017) Intensified agriculture favors evolved resistance to biological control. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 114, 3885-3890.
3. Tonkin, J.D., Olden, J.D., Merritt, D.M., Reynolds, L.V. & Lytle, D.A. (2018). Flow regime alteration degrades ecological networks in riparian ecosystems. Nature Ecology & Evolution. 2, 86-93.

Research aim

The aim of the PhD position is to address the link between ecological and evolutionary processes at local and regional scales, using a model community of host insects and their parasitoids. There will be some flexibility for the candidate to develop the specific research project, but it will likely involve the use of laboratory mesocosms to manipulate dispersal, species diversity, environmental (nutrient and climate) heterogeneity and stochasticity to deconstruct how local species richness and spatial variability in community composition stabilise regional biodiversity through ecological insurance effects and spatial evolutionary dynamics.

Who you are

You must have completed an undergraduate degree and Honours or Master’s degree (with a significant research component) in ecology or related field. A strong background in data analysis, experience working with insects and evidence of motivation to publish would be an advantage. Once selected, the preferred candidate would then need to apply to study at The University of Canterbury and meet the institutional criteria for entry prior to the scholarship being confirmed (check whether you meet these requirements here).

For this position, you must be able to start the position in early 2022. If managed isolation is required (due to COVID-19) at the time of entry, the grant will cover these expenses, though the government has stated that this requirement will be lifted for NZ citizens/residents in February and international citizens in April (with proof of vaccination).

Who you will work with

The position will be jointly supervised by Jason Tylianakis and Jono Tonkin, and will work collaboratively with a postdoc who is using theoretical approaches to address the same questions. The Tylianakis and Tonkin Labs both have a strong focus on understanding the impacts of environmental change on ecological communities. Our labs are diverse and interdisciplinary in thought and approach. The lab groups strive to cultivate an open, safe and supportive environment that values creativity, diversity, integrity and collaboration. We would therefore welcome applications from under-represented groups. For more information about both of our teams, please visit us our websites:,

Background to Bioprotection Aotearoa

Bioprotection Aotearoa is a national Centre of Research Excellence that exists to train the next generation of bioprotection researchers and to deliver world-class research that protects the productive and natural landscapes of Aotearoa New Zealand. Our mission is to educate our nation’s future bioprotection leaders by collaborating to conduct pioneering, multi-disciplinary research that addresses the environmental challenges Aotearoa New Zealand is facing. We draw on our collective academic strengths to develop new and innovative solutions that protect our productive and natural landscapes from climate change, pathogens, pests and weeds. Our kaupapa is guided by a unique mātauranga Māori and science framework - Te Taiao-a-rangi - which supports a holistic, systems-level approach to achieving intergenerational environmental sustainability. This position is funded by, and sits within, the Bioprotection Aotearoa science programme.

Funding notes

The 3-year PhD Scholarship provides an annual stipend of NZ$28,000 a year tax-free, covers full university fees, and the project has additional funding towards operating expenses.

How you apply

To apply, please provide a cover letter that addresses your research interests and experience, specific directions in which you would like to see this position go, Curriculum Vitae, and contact information for three references as a single pdf file (with your name in the file name).

Applications for the PhD position should be emailed to with “PhD in eco-evo dynamics” in the subject line of your email.


Note: In response to COVID-19 the New Zealand Government imposed travel restrictions, however, from 11:59pm on Friday 4 March, fully vaccinated New Zealand citizens, residents, and eligible travellers from the rest of the world will no longer have to self-isolate on arrival.

Position 2: PhD in Uncovering the role of indirect species interactions in marine ecological networks in a warming world

School of Biological Sciences
University of Canterbury, New Zealand
March 2022

The Tonkin and Thomsen Labs at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand are seeking outstanding applicants for one fully-funded PhD scholarship in quantitative community ecology. For this project, we seek use network analyses of species-interactions to uncover species-, interaction- and community-level responses to climate change, marine heatwaves, pollution, and species invasions.

The position

Marine ecosystems are losing biodiversity and ecosystem resilience as a result of pollution, invasive species, and climate change. We are increasingly aware of how these stressors have affected local community characteristics, such as species richness, diversity, dominance patterns, turnover, and multivariate structure. However, little is known about their effects on trait distributions and interaction networks, and how they may erode community stability and resilience. Although some indirect interactions, including trophic cascades and keystone predation, have been well studied, there are major gaps in our understanding about other types of indirect interactions and their importance in controlling community resilience to stressors. This project will address these research gaps, by analysing how trait distributions, and direct and indirect species interactions, are affected by climate change, heatwaves, pollution, and species invasions. The student will use network analyses of species-interactions to uncover species-, interaction- and community-level responses to various stressors, including marine heatwaves. Some analyses will use existing unpublished interaction data and species-sample matrices collected from rocky shores, seagrass beds and estuaries under different environmental stressors. Additional analysis will involve data extraction from published literature, including data related to species traits, and meta-analyses of indirect species interactions. If the student is interested in doing field or laboratory work, there are ample opportunities to collect supplementary data to improve the existing databases and test specific research questions in more detail. The student will be doing research and interacting with two dynamic lab-groups: Jonathan Tonkin’s lab (primary supervisor; and Mads Thomsen’s lab (secondary supervisor;


Undergraduate degree and Honours and/or Master’s degree (with research component) in ecology or related field. Priority will be given to applicants with statistical/analytical/modelling and programming skills (e.g. R or python), and ideally experience with network analysis. In-depth knowledge of ecological theory and/or basic marine biology is an advantage. A demonstrated ability to publish in peer-reviewed journals will be viewed favourably.


This position will be based in the Tonkin ( and Thomsen ( lab groups in the School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand. In the Tonkin Lab, we are, broadly speaking, community ecologists. But we ask a range of questions to understand how populations and communities vary in space and time. Our lab is focused on embracing diversity in its membership, and we encourage all suitably qualified individuals to apply. The School of Biological Sciences at the University of Canterbury benefits from a diverse community of researchers from a range of disciplines, supporting world-leading research across all levels of biological organisation. The University of Canterbury has a large and diverse postgraduate community, and a picturesque campus situated within reach of the mountains and sea.

Further information:


The 3-year scholarship provides an annual stipend of NZD$28,000 (tax free) and covers full university fees (tuition).

Start date

As soon as available; ideally before the last quarter of 2022.


To apply email a cover letter that addresses your research interests and experience, curriculum vitae, and contact information for three references in a single pdf to:
Dr. Jonathan Tonkin
School of Biological Sciences
University of Canterbury

The deadline for applications is 30 April 2022.