This project will evaluate the extent to which invasive alien species affect protected areas in Europe, and investigate which factors explain variations in how different Protected Areas are affected. Based at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (Montpellier, France), with secondments to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (Cambridge UK; 3.5 months) and UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (Cambridge, UK; 3.5 months).

This is Project 7 out of 15 PhD positions currently available as part of the Inspire4Nature training programme. Deadline for applications: 16 April 2018 (midnight, Brussels time).

PhD topic

Invasive Alien Species (IAS), i.e. non-indigenous species that threaten native species, are widely acknowledged as a major threat to global biodiversity. Biological invasions has become one of the most challenging issues for both ecologists, who try to evaluate their ecological and evolutionary consequences, and conservationists, who try to prevent and control them.  In this context, it is highly relevant to evaluate the interaction between IAS and Protected Areas (PA), areas that are aimed at preserving biodiversity and ensuring ecosystems integrity. Given the importance of PAs as repositories of biodiversity, the impacts of IAS on global biodiversity could be particularly serious if they affect PAs. Protected areas thus need guidelines to strengthen their efforts in terms of control and management of IAS (Monaco & Genovesi 2014).

Cover of Monaco & Genovesi 2014.

Previous studies on IAS have highlighted several general patterns on biological invasions that would support the hypothesis that PA might be less permeable to IAS than non-protected areas:

  • PAs are generally remote from cities and from other areas of intense human activities, where numerous introductions of both flora and fauna occur, and that have been identified as major pathways of IAS.
  • Human disturbances (e.g. transport infrastructures, agriculture, logging), that are known as facilitator of biological invasions, are generally reduced in PAs.
  • PAs have financial and human resources to prevent biological invasions (early detection and eradication programs of IAS) that are generally not available outside PAs.
  • Considering that the resistance to invasion of a community is expected to be positively related with its species richness, it may be expected that PAs are more resistant than species-poorer areas.

However, very few assessments of the permeability of PAs to IAS have been carried out. A study in Florida found that small PAs are more invaded than large ones (Iacona et al. 2014), whereas another study carried out in Central Europe found no effect of PAs size on the number of IAS present (Braun et al. 2016).  In Greece, Dimitrakopoulos et al. (2017) found that native plant richness in PAs has a positive effect on the presence of IAS, a result in contradiction with the expected relationship between species richness and the resistance of communities to invasion. These preliminary results are obviously insufficient to provide PA managers with clear predictor variables of the permeability of PAs to IAS.

In this context, the objectives of the project will be:

  • To characterize the extent to which European PAs are affected by IAS;
  • To quantify the ongoing investment in management efforts to prevent the establishment or to control the expansion of IAS;
  • To understand the factors (environmental, economic, historical) affecting the permeability of European PAs to IAS in order to predict how European PAs will be affected in the future and guide future management priorities.

The project will focus on France as an intensive case-study, complemented by an extensive study of selected PAs across Europe. To meet the objectives, the project will involve the use of and contribution to existing databases on IAS (e.g. the IUCN Global Invasive Species Database), through a combination of data mining and questionnaires to/interviews with PA managers.

This dataset will be complemented by other relevant data, including on environmental variables, human occupation, socio-economic and historical data, both within PAs and more broadly at the regional and national level. Statistical models will then be used to test how different factors (ecological, economic, historical…) affect the threat posed by IAS on PAs.

The project will produce a spatially explicit database of IAS across European (and particularly French) PAs, as well as a quantification of the relationships between PA characteristics and their permeability to IAS. These results will inform recommendations on how to minimise the impacts of IAS on biodiversity in general, and PAs in particular.

Related references

  • Braun M, Schindler S, Essl F. 2016. Distribution and management of invasive alien plant species in protected areas in Central Europe. Journal for Nature Conservation 33:48–57.
  • Dimitrakopoulos PG, Koukoulas S, Galanidis A, Delipetrou P, Gounaridis D, Touloumi K, Arianoutsou M. 2017. Factors shaping alien plant species richness spatial patterns across Natura 2000 Special Areas of Conservation of Greece. Science of the Total Environment 601–602:461–468.
  • Iacona GD, Price FD, Armsworth PR. 2014. Predicting the invadedness of protected areas. Diversity and Distributions 20:430–439.
  • Monaco, A., Genovesi, P. 2014. European Guidelines on Protected Areas and Invasive Alien Species. Council of Europe, Strasbourg, Regional Parks Agency – Lazio Region, Rome.

The PDFs of these articles can be downloaded here.

Institutional context and Supervision

The PhD student will be hired by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), the largest public research organisation in France, and enrolled as a PhD candidate at the University of Montpellier. S/he will be physically based at the Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive (CEFE), in Montpellier, France. The CEFE is the largest research centre in Ecology in France, and a Joint Research Unit of the CNRS and the University of Montpellier. The academic supervisor of this project is Anne Charpentier, Lecturer at the University of Montpellier.

This project is in close collaboration with the International Union for Conservation of Nature, (IUCN) and the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). IUCN is a membership Union of both government and civil society organisations. It provides public, private and non-governmental organisations with the knowledge and tools that enable human progress, economic development and nature conservation to take place together. The student will be supervised by Kevin Smith, Invasive Species Programme Officer.

UNEP-WCMC is the executive agency of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UN Environment) for biodiversity assessments. A world leader in biodiversity knowledge, it specializes in measuring biodiversity change, the causes of that change, evaluating options, and improving the capability of others to do the same. The student will work closely with UNEP-WCMC’s Protected Areas Programme, being supervised by Naomi Kingston, Head of Programme, and Brian McSharry, Data Manager and Senior Programme Officer.

The student will spend 7 months in secondments: 3.5 months with IUCN and 3.5 months with UNEP-WCMC. During this period, s/he will be based in the David Attenborough Building (Cambridge, UK), which houses nine conservation organisations and several departments of the University of Cambridge, who together form the Cambridge Conservation Initiative.

Salary: gross monthly income ca. 2500-2800€/month, net ca. 2000-2300€/month (depending on family circumstances; see here – under “Fantastic working conditions” for more details).

Ideal candidate

Candidates must meet all the general eligibility conditions applicable to all Inspire4Nature PhD positions, as described under “check if you are eligible” in this page. In particular: candidates cannot have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in France for more than 12 months within the previous 3 years, and must be early-stage researchers (no PhD yet, within the first 4 years of their research careers). In addition:

Required for this position:

  • A strong academic record in Ecology, including a Master’s Degree (or equivalent)
  • Enthusiasm about Science in general and Conservation Biology in particular
  • Good collaborative skills, while also wanting to develop her/his own PhD project
  • Enjoying handling and analysing datasets
  • Good knowledge and experience in statistical analyses, especially multivariate analysis
  • Experience in spatial analyses with Geographical Information Systems
  • Good proficiency in English: at least B1 level in understanding, speaking and writing as defined by the European Language Levels Self-Assessment Grid

Desirable for this position:

  • Conversational skills in French
  • Experience in questionnaires/interviews

Shortlisted candidates will be invited for an interview planned for the 6th-7th June – please keep these dates open.

Useful links


For any questions regarding application procedures, check this page first. If you cannot find your answer there, contact us. For any questions regarding the scientific content and institutional context of the PhD, contact Dr. Anne Charpentier.

Ready to apply?

For the instructions on how to prepare and submit your application, go to this page.

Only applications that are complete, in English, that respect the instructions in this page and that have been submitted before the deadline (16 April 2018) will be considered eligible.