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Department of Zoology


Projects on offer for 2022-23

For information on how to apply for postgraduate study in the Department of Zoology for 2022-23, please view the Postgraduate Admisisons Office webpages.  

Course specific information is available here:

For further information about any of the projects listed below, please contact the supervisor directly.  Applicants are welcome to approach supervisors with their own ideas - the list below is not exclusive, and does not include all supervisors. Please visit our Research Pages for more information.

Many of our projects are available as part of the NERC DTP - please make sure you quote the NERC project number in your application. For more information on the programme please refer to the NERC website

The list of projects is divided into those supported by NERC, and all others:

1. Projects (not with NERC)

  • Projects suitable for the Whitten PhD Studentship in Aquatic Biology
  • MPhil project
  • Cambridge Centre for Carbon Credits projects and studentships
  • PhD projects not connected with a specific funding stream

2. PhD Projects with NERC


Projects (not with NERC)



Projects suitable for the Whitten PhD Studentship in Aquatic Biology

Biomechanics of suction organs in aquatic insects (Walter Federle)

The aim of this project is to investigate the suction attachment system of male diving beetles, and compare it with recent findings on net-winged midge larvae. How are the beetles' suction organs designed, how do they form a tight seal, and how do they attach and detach?

Parental provisioning of mucus in a brood caring damselfish (James Herbert-Read, Rebecca Kilner, Katie Dunkley)

This project will investigate the causes and consequences of postnatal provisioning in fishes, and contribute to the new and rapidly expanding research field that seeks general principles about the function of socially transferred fluids.


MPhil Project

Assessing socioecological differences across Liberian land use systems (Michael Pashkevich)

Using data collected from a large-scale observational study, this MPhil project will assess differences in socioecological conditions between rainforest and agricultural systems in Liberia.


Cambridge Centre for Carbon Credits projects and studentships

These projects require an application to the MRes + PhD in Application of Artificial Intelligence to the study of Environmental Risks

The biodiversity value of nature-based climate projects (Andrew Balmford and Thomas Swinfield)

Consequences of forgone production from nature-based climate projects (Andrew Balmford and Thomas Swinfield)

Further information is available here.


PhD projects not connected with a specific funding stream

Critical periods specify nervous system function through epigenetic mechanisms (Matthias Landgraf)

This project will use novel genetic tools for cell type-specific profiling to establish how critical period-regulated epigenetic modifications lead to changes in gene expression.

Specification of neuronal function by metabolic reactive oxygen species (Matthias Landgraf)

This project will use a combination of genetics, imaging and electrophysiology to characterise the developmental events around the critical period

Predicting the Evolution of Influenza and SARS-CoV-2 Viruses (Derek Smith)

This project will form part of the group's work to to design and develop analytical, computational, and mathematical methods to understand the fundamental processes that govern the evolution of influenza and SARS-CoV-2 viruses.

Exploring the formation and function of biomolecular condensates in early development (Tim Weil)

This project aims to further our understanding of in vivo P bodies by exploring their formation, maintenance and dynamics. We will use genetic tools to alter the expression levels of key P body proteins and subsequent advanced microscopy and biochemistry to assess the impact of manipulation on P body form and function.

Establishing the mechanism of the calcium wave at egg activation (Tim Weil)

The focus of this project is to characterise in detail the mechanisms that drive initiation and propagation of calcium waves in eggs at activation. 

Testing the function of calcium in programmed cell death (Tim Weil)

The aim of this project is to elucidate the molecular mechanisms underlying coordinated cell decisions in development.  It will use the rapid transfer of cytoplasm and programmed cell death of Drosophila nurse cells as its model system. 

Cellular basis of pigment pattern development in cichlid fishes (Emilia Santos)

The aim of this project is to determine how tissue environment cues and cellular interactions between different pigment cell classes influence egg-spot pattern formation and variation within species.

The genetic basis of blue iridescent colouration in Malawi cichlid fishes (Emilia Santos)

The objective of this project is to identify the genes underlying variation in body flank iridescent pigmentation. 

Biomechanics of insect cleaning devices (Walter Federle)

This project aims to clarify the biomechanical function of insect cleaning structures. 


PhD Projects with NERC

CE335: *Funded through NERC* Can nature-based climate solutions enhance the resilience of key ecological functions in farmed landscapes? (Lead Supervisor: Lynn Dicks, Zoology)

This project will test the hypothesis that nature-based climate solutions can increase the robustness of ecological network structure, and thus the resilience of ecosystem services delivered by arthropods.

BC302: *Priority CASE Project* Bumblebee conservation in agricultural landscapes – the role of landscape structure and the Environmental Land Management Scheme (Lead Supervisor: Lynn Dicks, Zoology)

This project will use new molecular and field survey techniques to explore the role of habitat networks and landscape structure in wild bumblebee conservation.

BC304: *Priority CASE Project* Genetic improvement of the black soldier fly (Lead Supervisor: Chris Jiggins, Zoology)

This project will apply genomics to the use of insects as food, using cutting edge technology to improve global food security.

BC305: Palaeontological and developmental approaches for resolving vertebrate phylogenetics and character evolution (Lead Supervisor: Robert Asher, Zoology)

This project seeks to assess the information content of fossilizable data, reconstruct the morphology of fossil ancestors as predicted by genomic data, and provide a genomically informed means with which to assess the evolutionary affinities of long-extinct species. 

BC313: Assessing the resilience of regenerative agriculture and associated ecosystem services to climate change (Lead Supervisor: Lynn Dicks, Zoology)

This project will work in partnership with existing Farmer Cluster Groups focused on regenerative agriculture to measure, model and predict the impacts of climate change on crop production and ecosystem services in regenerative or conventional farming systems.

BC314: Understanding the impacts of insect decline on ecological function and human well-being (Lead Supervisor: Lynn Dicks, Zoology)

This project will use existing long-term insect assemblage and time series datasets to develop and test hypotheses about relationships between insect (or arthropod) abundance and diversity, and the stability and value of the ecological functions and ecosystem services they are responsible for.

BC315: The wider ecosystem benefits of managing for soil health on UK farms (Lead Supervisor: Lynn Dicks, Zoology)

This project will work in partnership with existing Farmer Cluster Groups already focused on soil health, to model, predict and monitor wider biodiversity and ecosystem responses to regenerative agriculture.

BC317: Biomechanics and ecology of sticky capture fluids in carnivorous plants (Nepenthes) (Lead Supervisor: Walter Federle, Zoology)

This project will study how carnivorous pitcher plants use sticky capture fluids to trap insects, how this affects their ecology and evolution, and how specialised insects can overcome the plant's traps

BC318: Trading off chemical and physical defences: How do specialist caterpillars cope with stiff and sharp plant trichomes? (Lead Supervisor: Walter Federle, Zoology)

The project will investigate the trade-off between chemical and physical defences in the evolutionary model system of Heliconius caterpillars feeding on Passiflora vines

BC319: Evolutionary biomechanics: The role of “wax barriers” and mechanisms of host specificity in Macaranga-ant mutualisms (Lead Supervisor: Walter Federle, Zoology)

This project will study what mechanisms determine the specificity of Macaranga ant-plant associations.

BC326: MIOHERP: Reconstructing Deep-Time diversity and its environmental drivers in a diverse vertebrate clade (Lead Supervisor: Jason Head, Zoology)

This project will combine fossil, molecular, and palaeoclimatic data to provide the first comprehensive analysis of the deep time origins of modern reptile diversity.

BC327: Grinnell vs. Elton in deep and shallow time: Ecological drivers of lizards and snakes during the last 23 million years (Lead Supervisor: Jason Head, Zoology)

With over 10,000 extant species, Squamata (“lizards”, including snakes) represents one of the great vertebrate radiations. The clade is represented by a dense fossil record concomitant with histories of diversification and dispersal through the last 23 million years, and thus represents a key opportunity to elucidate the relative roles of environment (Grinnellian niches) and biotic interactions (Eltonian niches) in driving hyperdiverse clade diversification through time.

BC328: Form, function and phylogeny: Elucidating snake origins from axial and neurocranial anatomy (Lead Supervisor: Jason Head, Zoology)

This project will examine skeletal anatomy in fossil and modern squamates in order to reconstruct the evolution of the snake body form in a functional and ecological setting.

BC331: Body-building in beetles (Lead Supervisor: Rebecca Kilner, Zoology)

This project will investigate how beetles allocate limited resources to different body structures during development, to improve their function and maximise the animal's fitness

BC336: A genomic view of African diversity (Lead Supervisor: Andrea Manica, Zoology)

By integrating genetics, ecology, and climate, this project will investigate the key drivers that shaped species diversity in the African continent.

BC337: Super-traits of Ediacaran organisms ~(580-560 Ma) (Lead Supervisor: Emily Mitchell, Zoology)

This project will investigate whether any biological super-traits (single traits that explain multiple different behaviours) govern the community dynamics of Ediacaran organisms.

BC338: Spot the difference: the genetic and developmental basis of pigment pattern variation in Malawi cichlid fishes (Lead Supervisor: Emilia Santos, Zoology) 

This project will use large scale genome sequencing, evolutionary genetics and developmental biology tools to identify and study genes generating variation in sexual dimorphic pigmentation patterns in the iconic Malawi cichlid fishes

BC339: Management options for river margin restoration in oil palm plantations (Lead Supervisor: Edgar Turner, Zoology)

Working as part of a long-term restoration experiment, based in Riau, Indonesia, this project will assess the potential of different management options for reforesting river margins in established oil palm plantations.