PhD projects

Vice-chancellor studentship in collaboration with Butterfly Conservation


Spatio-temporal models for large citizen science data sets

Supervisors: This is a joint project between the University of Kent and Butterfly Conservation and the PhD student will be supervised by a team with expertise in Statistics, Statistical Ecology, Citizen Science, and Butterfly Monitoring

University of Kent: Dr Eleni Matechou, Dr Diana Cole, Prof  Byron Morgan

Butterfly Conservation: Dr Emily Dennis, Dr Richard Fox

Scientific background

At a time of biodiversity loss, including widely reported insect declines, citizen science data play a vital role in measuring changes in species’ populations and distributions and in seeking to understand the pressures influencing such changes.

Butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) respond quickly to habitat and climatic change, and hence are valuable biodiversity indicators. In the UK, millions of species occurrence records for Lepidoptera have been gathered by two large citizen science recording schemes, of which the full potential has not been fully realized.

Analysing recording data of this nature presents unique challenges relating to their vast quantity but also associated sampling biases. Using cutting edge modelling, this project will maximise these valuable datasets to enhance our understanding of species’ phenology (flight periods), distribution and range dynamics to help inform future conservation delivery and policy for UK butterflies and moths.

Research methodology

The student will undertake new statistical model developments applied to citizen science data. The research will involve:

  • Critically assessing sampling design to determine how much data are needed to reliably estimate species’ occurrence trends – can occupancy models be used for rare species with small ranges?
  • Modelling species’ phenology from citizen science data to provide new insights on variation over space and time.
  • Applying state-of-the-art variable selection techniques to better describe drivers of species’ range and distribution change through suitable spatial and environmental covariates.


The student will develop a strong, highly transferable skillset in statistical modelling and analysis using modern statistical and computational techniques applied to large, unstructured data sets spanning multiple species, locations and years. The student will benefit from interactions with conservation professionals at Butterfly Conservation, including opportunities to undertake fieldwork, to better understand the data collection processes and focal taxa of the project, as well as data use for conservation delivery and policy.

Research excellence

The student will join the thriving Statistical Ecology @ Kent research group, being supervised by leading researchers in statistics and statistical ecology. They will also be members of the UK-wide National Centre for Statistical Ecology. They will attend London Taught Course Centre training, NCSE seminars, and SE@K specialist training and they will present research results at a range of appropriate national and international conferences. There will be ample opportunity for independent development, with the student gaining transferable knowledge of modern data science and statistics.

Please email Dr Eleni Matechou ( if you are interested in applying for the project or have any questions about the project or the application process.

Application Process

Deadline for applications: midnight 20th of February 2023

Applicants should follow the University of Kent’s online application process.

Please create an account and add your personal details as requested. Subsequently, you need to select your starting date (September 2023) and write your personal statement (see below). Choose “Other” for source of funding and “Definite” for funding. Add details of your qualifications, and then in the Research Information Tab, write “Dr Eleni Matechou” under supervisor and the title of the project (“Spatio-temporal models for large citizen science data sets“) as the research topic. You do not need to add a research proposal.

As part of the process, you need to provide the following:

o   details of your qualifications;

o   two academic references;

o  a personal statement

The statement must be maximum 500 words detailing (1) your reason for applying for a doctoral studentship (i.e, why do you want to pursue doctoral studies) and (2) your fit with the proposed project (how your educational/professional/personal background has prepared you well to undertake research in this topic).

Person specification

We seek a candidate with a strong quantitative background, for example an MSc in Statistics or an MSc with high statistics content, or a background in ecological modelling. Experience coding in R, or similar, is essential. An interest in conservation and ecology is advantageous. Quantitative ecologists are encouraged to apply.

The University of Kent requires all non-native speakers of English to reach a minimum standard of proficiency in written and spoken English before beginning a postgraduate degree. For more information on English language requirements, please visit this page.

 Scholarship Information

VC scholars will receive the following:

  • Annual stipend at UKRI rates (£17,668 in 2022/23);
  • Annual tuition fees at Home rates (£4,596 in 2022/23)

o   2023/24 rates to be announced.

Selection Process

Supervisors will carry out the initial eligibility checks and shortlisting. Shortlisted candidates will be notified by the 27 of February and will be invited for an interview taking place the on the 7th of March.


The deadline for  applications is midnight on 20th of February.

Relevant literature

Diana, A.Dennis, E. B.Matechou, E.Morgan, B. J. T. (2022) Fast Bayesian inference for large occupancy datasetsBiometrics, . ISSN 0006-341X. (In press) (KAR id:98286)

Dennis, E.B., Morgan, B.J.T., Freeman, S.N., Ridout, M.S., Brereton, T.M., Fox, R., Powney, G.D., Roy, D.B. (2017) Efficient occupancy model-fitting for extensive citizen-science data. PLoS ONE 12(3): e0174433.

Diana, A.Matechou, E.Griffin, J.Arnold, T.Tenan, S. & Volponi, S. (2022A general modeling framework for open wildlife populations based on the Polya tree priorBiometrics001– 13

Griffin, J. E., Matechou, E., Buxton, A. S., Bormpoudakis, D., & Griffiths, R. A. (2020). Modelling environmental DNA data; Bayesian variable selection accounting for false positive and false negative errors. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series C (Applied Statistics)69(2), 377-392.

Dennis, E.B., Morgan, B,J.T, Freeman, S.N., Brereton, T.M. & Roy, D.B. (2016). A generalized abundance index for seasonal invertebrates. Biometrics, 71, 1305-1314.

Dennis, E.B., Brereton, T.M., Morgan, B.J.T., Fox, R., Shortall, C.R., Prescott, T. & Foster, S. (2019). Trends and indicators for quantifying moth abundance and occupancy in Scotland. Journal of Insect Conservation, 23, 369-380.