Elva Joan Hilda Robinson

Contact details

Type of addressPostal address
Postal codeYO10 5DD
CountryUnited Kingdom
Address lines
  • Biology
    University of York
    Wentworth Way
    York
    YO10 5DD

Phone: (01904) 328716

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Dr. Elva Joan Hilda Robinson

Lecturer

PhD opportunities


Hybridisation, speciation and genetic structure in a woodland specialist

Fully-funded: NERC Industrial CASE partnership with Forest Research

Supervisors: Dr Elva Robinson, Dr Joan Cottrell (Forest Research) Dr Kanchon Dasmahapatra, Dr Kevin Watts (Forest Research); Project partner: Dr Jonna Kulmuni

We are looking for a committed and talented student for this exciting research. The project will combine genetic techniques, fieldwork skills, landscape analysis and stakeholder engagement to improve the management of UK woodlands for key elements of biodiversity, and set UK populations in their European context. The ideal candidate will enjoy interacting with academics and stakeholders from a range of backgrounds and want to apply their scientific training to an important applied question.

Britain’s forests offer key habitat for woodland species; however, maintaining biodiversity under the demands of timber production can be challenging. The highly fragmented nature of British woodlands is a further challenge because fragmentation leads to isolation, usually reducing genetic diversity of woodland dwelling species, particularly in species with poor dispersal abilities and exacting habitat requirements such as wood ants (Formica rufa group). These species, threatened across Europe, are key components of woodland ecosystems and offer an ideal study system to explore the impact of habitat fragmentation on genetic diversity of a woodland species.

This study will clarify the conservation status of a genetically unusual wood ant population in the North York Moors (NYM) and will use wood ants to study how dispersal and habitat fragmentation influence the formation of hybrids and new species. We will do this by comparing the genetic diversity of the NYM population to samples from across the UK and Eurasia. The data will explain what creates the unusually high diversity in the NYM and allow investigation of how wood ants spread and diversified at the continental scale after the last glacial period.

More information and how to apply


Wood ants on the move: impacts of land-use on species range expansion

Competitively-funded: NERC ACCE DTP Studentship

Supervisors: Dr Elva Robinson, Dr Kate Parr (University of Liverpool), Dr Kevin Watts (Forest Research), Professor Justin Travis (University of Aberdeen)

We are looking for an enthusiastic and ambitious student to develop an exciting project that will combine field data, ecological modelling and stakeholder engagement to improve the management of UK woodlands for key elements of biodiversity. The ideal candidate will enjoy interacting with academics and stakeholders from a range of backgrounds and want to apply their scientific training to an important applied question.

Forestry, mainly plantations, occupies 13% of British land area. Forests offer key habitat for woodland species; however, maintaining biodiversity alongside timber production can be challenging. The fragmentation of British woodlands adds further challenges, particularly for locally dispersing habitat specialists, e.g. wood ants (Formica rufa group). These species, threatened across Europe, are key components of woodland ecosystems. Recent work indicates wood ant populations in the North York Moors are expanding from ancient woodland into plantations. This expansion could potentially defragment populations; however, these ants disperse primarily locally, making spread slow and strongly influenced by local habitat. This project will use the expanding populations to study the dynamics of movement into new habitat.

Detailed forest habitat data will be combined with ant mapping data, including 3 years’ expansion at population margins. These data will be used to create and parameterise an individual based model predicting expansion patterns. New field data on further expansion will be collected and used to test prediction accuracy. The results will be used to identify the best forest management strategies (planting/ harvesting designs) to promote the dispersal of this woodland specialist. The primary focus of this project is theoretical modelling; however, there is a significant field work component.

More information and how to apply


MSc by Research opportunities


Polydomy, foraging and dominance in the invasive garden ant

Funding: Self-funded

Background
Invasive species can have dramatic effects, fundamentally altering ecosystems. Most data on mechanisms of invasion come from a few well-known damaging species; however, practical application of invasion ecology relies on detailed knowledge of a wide range of species. The proposed work will increase the data available with a new case study, the 'invasive garden ant' Lasius neglectus, a recent invader in Europe. This species can radically change the arthropod assemblage and has potential to be highly harmful. This species arrived in the UK in 2010, and I have a NERC Industrial CASE PhD student investigating the impact of this species in the field. The proposed project will complement ongoing field work, by investigating under controlled laboratory conditions the mechanisms by which Lasius neglectus achieves ecological dominance and high density foraging.

Objectives
1 To identify the mechanistic processes underlying spread into new territory by Lasius neglectus.
2 To assess the role of polydomy (dispersed nesting) in ecological dominance and high density foraging in Lasius neglectus

Methodology
This will be a laboratory-based empirical project. Laboratory colonies of L. neglectus and the native species Lasius niger will be used for experiments on mechanisms of spread into new territory, dominance and foraging. Laboratory techniques will include, when appropriate, video-recording of behaviour and radio-tagging technology.

Impact
We have produced a provisional national Risk Assessment for the potential ecological and economic risks posed by Lasius neglectus in the UK. The data from this project on mechanisms of invasion will feed into this Risk Assessment, and will be valuable both academically and to the applied conservation community.

Project Partners
Dr Elva Robinson and PhD student Phillip Buckham-Bonnett are working closely with pest controllers, conservation charities and the Non-native Species Secretariat to ensure work on Lasius neglectus has maximum impact.

More information
To discuss suitability for the project, contact Elva Robinson; details on the Biology Department’s MSc by Research programme and how to apply can be found here


Collective behaviour in social insect colonies

Funding: Self-funded

Background
Social insect colonies are accomplished collective decision-makers: the actions of individuals combine to make effective decisions at the group level that are far beyond the perception of any one individual in the group. The key to understanding such ‘self-organized’ collective behavior lies in identifying the behavioural algorithms used by individuals. One well-studied example of collective behaviour is nest-site choice, where a social insect colony must choose a new site and relocate to it. In some social insects, such as the ant Temnothorax albipennis, scouting ants appear to use a simple threshold rule whereby a scout assesses a nest against an internal quality threshold and either accepts the nest and starts recruiting, or rejects it and continues searching. At the colony level what would then dictate whether a nest site is chosen or not, is the distribution of quality thresholds within the colony.

Objectives
1 To investigate the role that shape and development of a colony’s threshold distribution has on the collective performance
2 To predict which individuals within a colony will have the most influence on collective processes under a range of ecological scenarios

Methodology
This research project will build on an existing simple model where each scouting ant is represented as an independent instantiation of a Markov process and each individual is assigned a nest quality threshold through Monte Carlo simulation. The model will be expanded to explore a wider range of threshold distribution shapes and choice contexts. The model will be parameterized from published data on house-hunting Temnothorax albipennis.

Impact
This model will not only give us a better understanding into mechanisms of colony decision making in T. albipennis but also in collectives in general. Collective behaviour is widespread in natures, and understanding it is essential to understanding the function and dynamics of animal groups. There is increasing interest currently in animal ‘personalities’ and this field extends to the emergent ‘personalities’ of collectives; understanding the relationship between individual decision behaviour and collective outcomes will help move this field forwards.

Project Partners
This project will be a collaboration between the MSc student, Dr Elva Robinson and Dr Carolina Doran, Max Plank Institute.

More information
To discuss suitability for the project, contact Elva Robinson; details on the Biology Department’s MSc by Research programme and how to apply can be found here


Ecological impact of land-use changes: ants as bio-indicators

Funding: Part funded by CSIRO, part self-funded

Background
Changes in land-management, e.g. altered grazing regimes or tree harvesting cycles can have dramatic impacts on biodiversity and ecological community function. Even more dramatic, are the changes in community structure and function when habitats devastated by human activity (e.g. open cast mining) are allowed to recover and be re-colonised.
The conservation of biodiversity outside of designated nature reserves is increasingly becoming important as a conservation component for global biota. To achieve success in this, we require a detailed knowledge of how biota are affected by human land use. Because not all biota can be studied simultaneously, particularly responsive and informative taxa can be used as surrogates for all others through bioindication. Ant communities are complex, with ants playing a range of ecological roles: predators, indirect herbivores (via interactions with hemiptera), scavengers, soil movers; and occupying physical niches underground, on the ground surface, in shrubs and in mature canopy. Ants are thus particularly valuable as bioindicator taxa, and are widely used around the globe to address many conservation questions. In this study, changes in ant community composition and structure will be used as indicators for the ecological impact of land-use changes.

Objectives
1 To identify the ecological impact of a controlled grazing experiment, using ant communities as indicators
2 To assess the success of minesite rehabilitaton, using ant communities as indicators

Methodology
This project will be primarily based on analysing existing ant community data. A 10-year grazing experiment has been sampled 3 times for ants; the ant and vegetation data will be used to address objective 1. Data on ant communities from many years of minesite rehabilitaton across multiple mines are available to address objective 2. Depending on the skills and interests of the student, research could focus on just one of the objectives, but in greater depth. The project will include a funded visit to CSIRO Darwin to receive training and learn about how the data were collected.

Impact
The results of this project will be valuable in guiding land management procedures and assessing the success of ecological rehabilitation. The results produced will be valuable both academically and to the applied conservation community.

Project Partners
This project will be a collaboration between the MSc student, Dr Elva Robinson and Dr Ben Hoffman, CSIRO Darwin.

More information
More information and how to apply.
To discuss suitability for the project, contact Elva Robinson


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