Ecosystems and Environment Research Centre
PhD/MPhil/MSc by research

  • Part-time study available
  • Alternative start dates available
  • International Students can apply

Subject Overview


Research, conducted in tropical and temperate ecosystems, consists of projects on a wide range of invertebrate and vertebrate taxa - including microorganisms, insects, crustaceans, fish, amphibians, birds, and mammals. These projects include the study of population genetics, animal behaviour in both natural ecosystems and in captive breeding programmes, communication amongst social invertebrates and evolution.

Disease Ecology

Researchers study the underlying principles that influence the spatio-temporal patterns of diseases and consequently much research lies at the interface of human biology, animal biology, and human health. The transmission ecology of non-vector and vector-borne zoonotic infections (both microbial and parasitic including echinococcosis, trypanosomiasis, microsporidiosis and tick-borne microbes) and molecular epidemiology of the diseases they cause are particular foci of this group.

Ecosystems (Natural and Urban)

Both natural and urban ecosystems are studied by researchers . Members of this group are currently supporting the development of large scale conservation measures across river catchments, metropolitan areas and along estuaries.  Topics such as urban wellbeing and quality of life, the application of GIS and earth observation methods and technologies to the characterisation and interpretation of both the natural and human environment, the wider socio-environmental determinants of health, food security and urban agriculture are covered by this research.  This is extended to include health risk assessment and environmental epidemiology, modelling environmental contaminants, and pollution ecology, especially radioecology

Landscape Dynamics

This research group is concerned with the temporal and spatial dynamics of the Earth's land surface. This research involves the measurement, modelling, and analysis of land surface and atmospheric processes using techniques such as lidar, remote sensing of land surface vegetation change, glaciology, and sediment and nutrient dynamics. The Centre carries out high quality real-world research that contributes to scientific understanding of the nature and impacts of environmental change on the natural and human environment. This includes environmental issues related to acid sulphate weathering in mine areas, characterisation and treatment of industrial wastes, climate change adaptation, and payment for environmental services (PES).

Entry Requirements

1st class or upper second class undergraduate degree.

A Masters degree is preferred but not essential. However, applicants without a Masters degree should provide evidence of previous research methods training.

Overall IELTS score of at least 6.0 with no less than 5.5 in any one element.

We offer four entry points – October, January, April and July. Applications can be submitted at any point within the year.

Applicant Profile

You should have a first degree that provides a foundation relevant to your field in the natural principles of mechanics and scientific practice. This could include degrees in Biology, Geography or Environmental Science degree and a range of other degree subjects that develop our inter- and multi-disciplinary research.  Evidence of ability to study and critically appraise literature independently is essential and candidates with a Masters qualification are preferred.  

As a student embarking on a postgraduate research degree you will be assigned a supervisory team, to help guide and mentor you throughout your time at the University. However, you are ultimately expected to take responsibility for managing your learning and will be expected to initiate discussions, ask for the help that you need and be proactive in your approach to study.  

All applicants will be required to attend for an interview, or if this is not possible, to be available for an interview by Skype or telephone.

International Students and Students who are Non EU/EEA/UK Nationals - Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS)

International Students and student who are not EU, EEA or UK nationals are required by the Home Office and/or the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) to apply for an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) Certificate before they begin studying their course. You may need to obtain an ATAS Certificate before you come to the UK in order for you to comply with Home Office regulations. Please refer to your offer conditions.
You can find out if your programme requires an ATAS by checking the FCO website at with your JACS code which will be on your offer letter should you choose to make an application. If you cannot find it please contact International Conversion team at If you have any queries relating directly to ATAS please contact the ATAS team on
You can apply for your ATAS Certificate via this link:

Current Student Research

Research Topics

Lucy Walker – 2nd Year PhD student

Monitoring seasonal dynamics in forest canopies: Improving structural measurements and biomass assessments using a unique terrestrial laser scanner

Lucy joined the Environment and Ecosystems Research Centre in October 2012 as a PhD researcher funded by the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC). With an academic background in Physical Geography (BSc University of Leicester) and GIS (MSc Sheffield Hallam), and professional experience working in environmental consultancies, Lucy will be investigating the use and application of a unique terrestrial laser scanner (TLS) ‘SALCA’ for the study of seasonal carbon dynamics in forest canopies. The Salford Advanced Laser Canopy Analyser (SALCA), developed by the University of Salford and Halo Photonics Ltd, has the ability to collect highly detailed and accurate forest measurements providing an exciting new advancement in forest canopy ecology and phenology research. Earlier this year, Lucy received an award for the best poster at the international “Wavelength” conference of Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society where she presented her research ideas. Lucy has recently returned from Brisbane, Australia, where the SALCA team were participating in an instrument inter-comparison study alongside research groups from the US and Australia, the results from which will advance understanding of using TLS instruments for vegetation characterisation.  

Barbara Law – First year PhD student

Organisational Dynamics and Stakeholder Participation in River Catchment Activity

Barbara is a new member of the research centre, and her transition from a strategic business background in an international telecommunications company to an academic researcher has been facilitated by the University’s comprehensive support structure and focussed training opportunities. 

An important challenge exists in delivering environmental improvements through the mechanism of collaborative governance.   The development of River Catchment-based partnerships, where public bodies and private groups work together, has offered opportunities for the adoption of novel, co-operative methods, to deliver environmental outcomes at a range of scales.  As with most partnerships, there is often a period of learning how to work together in order to be both effective and efficient, especially when addressing the requirements of adopting an Ecosystems Approach.

Barbara’s research draws on her previous strategic business knowledge in addition to her academic environmental studies background.  The goals of her current research to understand the complexity of interactions which affect the multi-actors in catchment partnerships through detailed examination of the Irwell River Partnership, identify the evolution of management strategies.  Outcomes will enhance the developing body of work linked to the European Water Framework Directive.

Jaroslav Bajnok, Part-time PhD in Parasitology

A few years after my BSc in Zoology and Animal Physiology in Slovakia, I decided to do the MSc in Molecular Parasitology and Vector Biology course at University of Salford.  This made me enthusiastic about parasites and their influence on human health. I was also equipped with specialised skills which helped me to continue my career in research. So after successful graduation, I applied straightaway for a PhD position at the University of Salford.  I opted for a part-time option because I wanted to gain some working experience. Doing a PhD is not easy. I have some days which are very frustrating, wondering what I actually achieved that day. On the other hand, I am excited by starting to write my first scientific paper. I have a very supportive supervisor who encourages and helps me through the difficult times. All members of staff are fantastic, very friendly, open and always there for you.  I’ve been getting a lot of opportunities, such as conference attendances and good help during my PhD.  Study at the University of Salford gives you the opportunity to make friends and have daily contact with other international students and researchers. I feel confident that I will make important contacts for my future research career.

GTA Student Profiles

Carly Chadwick - Behaviour, social association and personality in captive cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus)  

The wild cheetah population is rapidly declining, and the captive population is not self-sustaining. This is of great concern for cheetah conservation and the latter might indicate underlying captive welfare concerns. Housing animals in appropriate social groups is an effective way of improving animal welfare by providing animals the context in which to express wild-counterpart behaviour. Thus, knowledge of captive cheetah social interaction is crucial if zoos are to provide optimal conditions for welfare and breeding. Using direct behavioural observations, Geographic Information Systems and keeper questionnaires, my PhD investigates the behaviour and personality of cheetahs held in zoo exhibits in the UK and Europe. I am quantifying relationships between group housing, behaviour and reproductive outcomes. The aim is to identify those factors that are contributing to reduced reproductive potential in captive cheetahs, and my project is the first of its kind to include collections across the entire European cheetah breeding programme.  

Oliver Gunawan - Using the urban landscape mosaic to develop and validate methods for assessing the spatial distribution of ecosystem service potential

Oliver Gunawan is a final year PhD student in the research group. His research focuses on how changing patterns of land use across a city relates to the provision and accessibility of ecosystem services in the urban environment. Having completed a Masters in Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing from the University of Salford, Oliver is using a desktop-based approach to complete his research. Digital maps and satellite imagery are used to develop indicators for key services provided by ecosystems in the city. Of particular interest is how ecosystem service generation and accessibility disparities are mapped out across the city and their relationships to socio-economic inequalities. Oliver is funded by the university’s Graduate Teaching Studentship scheme. Through support of staff teaching duties and focused teacher training, this scheme has provided Oliver with opportunities to gain experience in lecturing, practical demonstrating, and the marking of formal assessments. This experience is invaluable for future plans to develop a career in academia.

Training and Skills

All postgraduate research students are expected to attend the College’s research methods seminars during their first year of study, covering subjects such as conducting a literature review, methods of data collection, research governance and ethics, and analysis, presentation, interpretation and rigour in qualitative research.  

In addition, the University offers all postgraduate research students an extensive range of free training activities to help develop their research and transferable skills. The Salford Postgraduate Research Training Programme (SPoRT) has been designed to equip researchers both for their university studies and for their future careers whether in academia, elsewhere in the public sector, or in industry and the private sector.

Assessment Links

As a postgraduate research student at the University of Salford, you are required to meet a number of milestones in order to re-register for each year of study. These progression points are an important aid for both you and your supervisory team and it is essential that you complete them on time.  

Learning Agreement: completed by you and your supervisor collaboratively in the first 3 months of your research program (month 6 for part-time students). The Learning Agreement encourages both of you to develop a thorough and consistent understanding of your individual and shared roles and responsibilities in your research partnership.  

Annual Progress Report: this report is completed by your supervisor at the end of each year of study, and reports on your achievements in the past year, the likelihood that you will submit on time, confirmation of the Learning Agreement and relevant training undertaken.  

Self Evaluation Report: completed by you at the end of each year of study this report asks you to comment on your academic progress, supervisory arrangements, research environment, research training, and relevant training undertaken.  

Interim Assessment: this is an assessment of your progress by a panel. It takes place between months 9-11 for full time students (months 15-20 for part-time students), and is designed to ensure you have reached a threshold of academic performance, by assessing your general progress. The assessment comprises a written report, presentation and oral examination by a Panel. You must successfully complete it in order to register for your second year.  

Internal Evaluation: taking place towards the end of the second year, (between months 21-23 for full-time students, and months 35-40 for part-time students), successful completion of this evaluation is required in order to continue onto your third year of study. You will be expected to show strong progress in your PhD study reflected in the submission of a substantial piece of work.  

Documented Supervision Meetings: Full-time students are expected to have at least 10 documented supervisory meetings per year.  Part-time students have to have fewer documented supervisory meetings each year.

Research Profile

Research Excellence

The Ecosystems and Environment Research Centre currently has more than 40 postgraduate research students and is an international community.

Within the Ecosystems and Environment Research Centre each area of research is led by experienced researchers whose expertise has international recognition. All our researchers publish their work in peer reviewed internationally recognised journals and are regularly invited to speak at international conferences. They lead on a wide range of established collaborations with UK, international academic and industry partners.

The research areas within the Centre are:

  • Biodiversity
  • Disease Ecology
  • Ecosystems (Natural and Urban)
  • Landscape Dynamics

Staff Profiles


Dr Chiara Benvenuto - Lecturer in Zoology

Integrating behavioural ecology with population ecology, population genetics and ecological modelling

Dr. Jean Boubli - Reader

Tropical Ecology and Conservation; Primatology; Animal Behaviour and Ecology, Biogeography

Dr. Robert Jehle – Senior Lecturer

The ecology, behaviour and evolution of amphibians at the level of populations including the documentation of spatial and temporal population processes using genetic markers, and the use of genetic information to document mating systems; and field-based studies on habitat use and migration, and the application of such data for conservation.

Professor Stefano Mariani - Chair in Conservation Genetics

Population genetics of fish (also molluscs and mammals) currently focusing on:

a) interdisciplinary approaches to identifying biological units for conservation and management,

b) the population genetic consequences of sex-change in fish, and

c) the biological and societal drivers of seafood consumption.

Professor Steven Martin - Chair in Animal Ecology

Various aspects of the biology of social insects (bees, wasps, ants and termites) including looking at molecular changes associated with increased virulence of an emerging viral pathogen using the honeybee, Varroa mite and deformed wing virus as a model system and investigating the underlying mechanisms of phenotypic plasticity in chemical recognition systems in ants, using Formcia ants as the model system.

Dr. Sean O’Hara - Lecturer in Wildlife Cognition and Behaviour

Understanding the evolved psychologies that underscore behavioural decision making. Drawing on a background of biosciences, evolutionary anthropology and evolutionary psychology I address key questions relating to social and cognitive evolution in humans and other animals from a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary perspective.

Dr. Paul Rees - Senior Lecturer in Wildlife

The behaviour and welfare of animals in zoos (especially elephants), the ecology and behaviour of mammals (particularly African large mammals), biological education and wildlife law. I have a particular interest in the importance of policy and legislation in influencing the pivotal role of zoos in the conservation of biodiversity and the welfare of animals living in them.

Professor Robert Young - Professor of Wildlife Conservation

Animal behaviour and how it can be used to improve animal conservation and animal welfare; how animals communicate; the human wildlife interface; human-animal interactions in urban environments.  

Disease ecology

Disease ecology is the study of the underlying principles that influence the spatio-temporal patterns of diseases and consequently much research lies at the interface of human biology, animal biology, and human health. Research particularly focuses on transmission ecology of non-vector and vector-borne zoonotic infections (both microbial and parasitic including echinococcosis, trypanosomiasis, microsporidiosis and tick-borne microbes) and molecular epidemiology of the diseases they cause.

Professor Richard Birtles - Chair in Biomedicine

Exploring the strategies adopted by infectious agents, at the individual and population level, to persist in nature, in particular those microorganisms that are arthropod transmitted.

Dr. Kevin Bown - Lecturer in Biology

The ecology and epidemiology of tick-borne infections.

Professor Philip Craig - Professor of Biology

Cestode Zoonoses

Professor Geoff Hide - Professor of Parasitology

Molecular epidemiology of parasites (in particular trypanosomes).

Professor Gai Murphy – Associate Dean (Academic)

Impact of urban vector species on environmental and public health.

Professor Michael Rogan – Professor of Zoology

The biology, immunology and epidemiology of tapeworm parasites (Cestodes) particularly Echinococcus.

Professor Judith Smith – Head of School

Understanding the relationship between transmission and disease using two systems; the zoonotic pathogen Toxoplasma gondii and the microsporidia, a group of fungal related parasites that infect all animal taxa.

Dr. Denise Thomasson - Lecturer

Parasitology using molecular techniques to detect Toxoplasma gondii in wild mice populations, particularly in areas where there is an absence of definitive hosts the cat.  

Ecosystems (Natural and Urban)

Dr. Mags Adams - Lecturer in Geography

Urban wellbeing and quality of life, connecting previous work on sensory environments (noise and soundscapes), urban environmental quality (24 hour cities, urban design and mobility), and use and experience of urban green spaces.

Dr. Richard Armitage - Senior Lecturer in GIS

The application of GIS and earth observation methods and technologies to the characterisation and interpretation of both the natural and human environment (the impact of green spaces on the urban environment with a focus on the role that they play in ecosystem services;  fire risk in UK upland areas and the development of new methods to characterise forest canopies using terrestrial laser scanning (TLS); and the potential of using both environmental and socio-economic indicators to describe neighbourhoods.

Dr. Marcus Chilaka - Lecturer in Environmental Health

Health Impact Assessment (HIA), the wider socio-environmental determinants of health, community participation in health and development, and Environmental and Public Health policy.

Dr Michael Hardman – Lecture in Geography

Interdisciplinary research in topics ranging from food security and urban agriculture to guerrilla gardening and city planning.

Professor Philip James – Professor of Ecology

Interdisciplinary research in Urban ecology, conservation ecology, Socio-ecological systems.

Professor Richard Knowles - Professor of Transport Geography

Spatial implications of Peak Oil, alternative fuels and dearer personal mobility and into workplace travel plans and sustainable development.

Dr. Depapriya Mondal - Lecturer

Health risk assessment and environmental epidemiology; analysis of potential environmental toxins and quantifying the contaminants (both inorganic, organic and microbial) in environmental media like food and water, and also as biomarkers of human exposure through non-invasive sampling of urine or hair; modelling as estimation of disease burden completing meta-analysis and conducting health risk assessments based on cross-sectional, longitudinal and follow up datasets.

Dr. Stephen Todd – Senior Lecturer

Building Pathology and energy conservation areas.

Dr. Mike Wood - Lecturer in Environmental Management

Development of tools and methods for environmental management;

Modelling environmental contaminants, especially in coastal interface ecosystems;

Management of environmental pollution;

Pollution ecology, especially Radioecology;

Food chain transfer of contaminants;

Ecosystem services and poverty alleviation;

Environmental management decision making and uncertainty; and

Corporate environmental management and Environmental Management Systems.  

Landscape dynamics

Research in landscape dynamics is concerned with the temporal and spatial dynamics of the Earth's land surface. This research involves the measurement, modelling, and analysis of land surface and atmospheric processes using techniques such as lidar, remote sensing of land surface vegetation change, glaciology, and sediment and nutrient dynamics. The Centre carries out high quality real-world research that contributes to scientific understanding of the nature and impacts of environmental change on the natural and human environment.

Professor Chuxia Lin - Professor of Environmental Science

Chuxia Lin has a broad range of research interests in environmental sciences with a particular focus on environmental issues related to acid sulphate weathering in mine areas (acid mine drainage) and coastal lowlands (acid sulphate soils). Other research interests include chemical behaviour of heavy metals and pesticides in water-soil-plant systems, characterisation and treatment of industrial wastes, ecotoxicology, soil carbon sequestration, climate change adaptation, and payment for environmental services (PES).

Professor David Collins - Professor of Physical Geography

(a) climatic warming and meltwater discharge from mountain glaciers,

(b) quality of meltwater draining from glaciers, and

(c) hydrology and year-to-year variability of river flow from basins of varying percentage glacierisation. 

Professor Mark Danson - Professor of Environmental Remote Sensing

Mapping, modelling and understanding environmental change, specifically the effects of climate and human activity on the biosphere.

Dr. Neil Entwistle - Lecturer in Geography

Hydromorphology including sediment transport dynamics, catchment/ reach connectivity, ecohydraulics.

Dr. Simon Hutchinson – Senior Lecturer

Palaeolimnology; using sediment-based depositional records to reconstruct the impacts of environmental changes driven by both human and natural agents at  timescales from the last full glacial, to the Holocene and the post-industrial period (e.g., from the last 50,000 to the most recent 50 years).


Career Prospects

Students leaving the Ecosystems and Environment Research Centre with a postgraduate research degree are well placed to lead and manage research and development activities in a number of areas. This includes conservation organisations, health science industry and organisations, and environmental consultancy. Globally, a postgraduate research qualification is usually a prerequisite for an academic career and several of our alumni are now senior academics.  

Previous students have taken their research expertise and knowledge into managing the environment on behalf of large organisations and consultancy of environmental and nature conservation. Others have gone forward to academic positions. We encourage the maintenance of links between graduating research students and their host research group and supervisor. This means the University can become part of the developing professional network that students take forward into their future careers. 

Alumni Profiles

Dr. Kellyanne Boyce  

I chose to continue onto a PhD after completing my MSc in Molecular Parasitology at The University of Salford and I was fortunate to receive funding from the University’s Graduate Teaching Assistantship Scheme.

My PhD research involved the study of parasites affecting rodents at Malham in the Yorkshire Dales. If asked what the highlight of my research was, I would have to say the opportunity to discover and describe a new parasite species, samples of which have been housed by the Natural History Museum in London. I was awarded my PhD in June 2013 and I have since received a postdoctoral scholarship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

I will shortly be travelling to Montreal where I will be involved in the study of parasites from freshwater hosts. I feel that Salford has played an integral role in my successes to date and has provided me with the necessary skills required to achieve a successful research career.

Not only does Salford provide a relaxed but professional working environment with access to well-equipped research facilities, the staff have a friendly and encouraging approach, which in addition to their specialised knowledge and skills provides a definite combination for enthusing success.    

Dr. Anthony J Bodell

Characterisation of a panel of recombinant antigens from Echinococcus granulosus and their role in the immunological follow up, after treatment, of cystic hydatid patients from Turkana, Kenya.  

I left high school in 1970 with decidedly below average CSE grades and followed in the footsteps of my father for a while in the Police cadets.  However, soon afterwards I left the police and learned the trade of bricklaying. I was also an accomplished guitar player and became a professional musician in a rock band touring most of Europe and the Near East for over 20 years.

On return to the UK, I settled down and had a family and I became self-employed as a builder. During this time, I studied and took national exams qualifying as a surveyor for identification of dampness and wood boring insects/fungi in buildings and recommending subsequent remedial treatments. It is here where my journey through the University of Salford begins …  

I discussed the possibility of embarking on a BSc course with the admissions tutor in the school of ELS at the University, just to gather information. I will always be grateful for the sound advice and guidance given to me from that day which led me to my future path via the following events: 2001/2002, I undertook a full time Access to Higher Education course at Bury College. In 2002/2003, I began a BSc course in the School of ELS, University of Salford during which time, I had 12 months professional experience working on African sleeping sickness in the molecular research labs. By 2006, I had graduated with a first class honours degree in Human Biology and Infectious Diseases following which I then furthered my studies at the University of Salford and achieved my PhD in the immunology of Echinococcus granulosus.  Currently, I am working on a permanent contract as a specialist technician in the School of ELS at the University of Salford.    

I started on this career path at the age of forty eight, proving anyone can do what they want to do … and at any age.  

Dr. Kathleen Radford

My journey at the University of Salford began with a BSc (Hons) in Wildlife and Practical Conservation. As well as fuelling my love for ecology and wildlife, the course introduced me to a number of important sustainability issues within many different ecosystems. One of the main issues which took my interest was the role of nature in sustainable cities, and its effects on human health and wellbeing. This led me to read for a PhD focusing on the provision of ecosystem service (the benefits people obtain from natural ecosystems) in urban environments.

During my studies, my new interests in sustainability in the built and urban environment led me to undertake part time work as a Code for Sustainable Homes (CfSH) assessor at an architectural practice. The CfSH is an environmental assessment method for rating and certifying the performance of new homes against 9 sustainability criteria, and assesses the overall environmental impact during the building process and occupation, thus encouraging sustainable development.

Following the completion of my postgraduate studies I took up a full time post at the same organisation where, in addition to CfSH assessments, I was trained and then licenced to carry out the full range of BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) Non-Domestic and Domestic Refurbishment projects. This was in addition to raising awareness of sustainable approaches in the construction process and building occupation, and offering sustainability advice to members of the construction industry.

Although I have slightly deviated from my original career plans, the University of Salford has thoroughly prepared me for my role in the sustainability industry by providing me with knowledge of the issues surrounding my position and providing me with the key skills which have aided my progression to date.

Industry Links

The research groups in the School of Environment and Life Sciences have extensive connections and collaborations with international corporations, local authorities and NGOs. These are available to enhance the research activities of postgraduate students, to improve the quality and application of research, and to form lasting partnerships between students, academics and the external partners concerned.  The need for collaboration and selection of suitable partners can be discussed directly with research programme leaders and supervisors.  Some students may wish to suggest potential new partners based on their existing professional collaborations and networks.


The School has fully equipped laboratory suite in which most of the Disease Ecology work is conducted.  Facilities within the laboratories are tailored to meet the requirements of the research.

Environmental studies are enhanced by the availability of GIS and Remote Sensing relevant software on the desk top machines for those using these technologies.

Field equipment for sampling in all habitats, and for sampling soil properties and contaminants are available.

Surface LIDAR equipment, including Salford Advanced Laser Canopy Analyser (SALCA), developed by the University of Salford and Halo Photonics Ltd.