Project proposal details

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Project title
Quantifying the role of habitat complexity in predator-prey interaction rates
Contact name
Samraat Pawar
Project based at
Silwood Park (Imperial)
Imperial contact email
Project description
The idea that habitat structure is a fundamental mediator of consumer-resource interactions is practically as old as ecology. Habitat is a fundamental niche dimension, but we currently lack a theoretical basis for understanding how habitat structural complexity mediates consumer-resource interactions, which remain the proximal driver of extinctions in a rapidly changing world. This knowledge gap can be addressed by linking changes in key, quantifiable aspects of habitat complexity—such as the density of obstacles, or proportion of available refuge space (Barrios-O’Neill et al. 2015)—with changes in key, quantifiable aspects of consumer foraging ecology—including resource reaction distance, velocity and proportion of time spent moving (Pawar et al 2012, Rizzuto et al. 2018) .

This project will use large amounts of data from high turnover consumer-resource feeding trials (e.g. Barrios-O’Neill et al. 2016) at the University of Exeter’s Centre for Ecology and Conservation (Dr Barrios-O’Neill) to develop and test new mechanistic models of consumer search and and capture rates along gradients of habitat complexity at Silwood (Pawar Lab). 3D printed habitats with precisely defined combinations of refuge space and obstacle density will be used to quantify foraging outcomes for marine consumer-resource pairs and, uniquely, provide the engineering flexibility to iteratively test predictions emerging from model development. This project is an exciting opportunity to work at the nexus of theoretical and empirical ecology across two of the UK’s leading institutes in the field.

Barrios-O’Neill D, Dick JTA, Emmerson MC, Ricciardi A, Macisaac HJ. 2015. Predator-free space, functional responses and biological invasions. Functional Ecology 29:377–384.
Pawar, S., Dell, A. I. & Van M. Savage. 2012. Dimensionality of consumer search space drives trophic interaction strengths. Nature 486, 485–489.
Rizzuto M, Carbone C, Pawar S. 2018. Foraging constraints reverse the scaling of activity time in carnivores. Nature Ecology and Evolution 2:247–253. Springer US. Available from
Barrios-O’Neill D, Kelly R, Dick JTA, Ricciardi A, Macisaac HJ, Emmerson MC. 2016. On the context-dependent scaling of consumer feeding rates. Ecology Letters 19:668–678.
Additional requirements
Programming skills in any open source language
Available support
Desk space, Computer
Selection and eligibility
Date uploaded

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
5 months, 9 months
Available date limitations
Autumn (Sept-Oct), Winter (January), Spring (April-May)
Suitable for
Ecology Evolution and Conservation, Computational Methods in Ecology and Evolution (MSc), Computational Methods in Ecology and Evolution (MRes)