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Seeking Graduate Students in Conservation Science

Ph.D. and Masters Students in Conservation Science

The Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is expanding its research program in Conservation Science ( This expansion includes multiple recently appointed tenure-line faculty who have joined the department and consolidates existing strengths on our campus. Much of our work is fundamentally interdisciplinary, based around a partnership approach with conservation practitioners from different sectors, and our projects are both national and international in focus.

As we grow this research program, we seek applications from prospective graduate students in conservation science. We seek outstanding students interested in either pursuing a Ph.D. or research-based Masters. We have sufficient funding available to admit a strong cohort of students. While we encourage students to pursue independent funding opportunities, EEB’s policy is to admit students only when we are confident we will have funding support available for them for the entire duration of their studies. We provide funding to both Masters and Ph.D. students, regardless of citizenship.  Our goal is to recruit a diverse pool of students on a range of metrics, including background, career stage, and research interests.

The University is the State of Tennessee’s research-intensive, land-grant institution. Our department is among the top 10% of ecology groups in North America in terms of research impact (Keville et al., 2017). Our students and faculty benefit from the wealth of nearby field resources (Great Smoky Mountains National Park, National Forests, and natural areas), our extensive biodiversity collections, and rich collaborations with scientists at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis and nearby Oak Ridge National Lab. The department is very interactive and has strong interdisciplinary connections on the campus (Economics, Mathematics, Geography, Law, Forestry Wildlife and Fisheries, Agriculture & Resource Economics, Engineering, and more). Knoxville itself is a vibrant, affordable, student-friendly community.

Our recent conservation science graduates have an excellent record of placement, with students taking leadership positions within conservation NGOs and public agencies and accepting post-doctoral positions in internationally renowned research groups. Our students’ research projects are published in top-tier journals and routinely deliver products that our practitioner partners use and greatly value. Our students study globally important conservation questions, which commonly requires working in overseas field systems alongside in-country practitioners.

We anticipate operating a “cohort model” where students interact with each other and multiple faculty members but typically have a home in one faculty member’s lab. Ensuring a good match between the potential advisor and the student is a central feature of our recruitment process. Interested students, therefore, should reach out to potential advisors by email to explore possibilities.

  • Paul Armsworth (,– Ecological modeling, ecological economics, spatial optimization, conservation finance.
    How can we increase conservation organizations’ flexibility to direct available funding to places and times where it will do the most good in terms of protecting biodiversity and ecosystem services? Can we improve the effectiveness of conservation programs using optimization tools that integrate ecological and socioeconomic data?
  • Ben Fitzpatrick (, – Conservation genetics, amphibian declines, and invasion biology.
    Are human impacts affecting rates of interspecific hybridization? How important are genetic considerations for species reintroduction and translocation? Can we use natural patterns of gene flow to predict the spread of invasive species (including pathogens)?
  • Orou Gaoue (, – Sustainable harvest, population dynamics modeling, plant-human interactions.
    How do local people use their ecological knowledge of the environment to design and implement sustainable use strategies? How do disturbances like harvest, fire, and fragmentation affect plant communities, and what are the implications for sustainable use of forest resources?
  • Xingli Giam (, – Land-use and climate change impacts on aquatic communities, macroecology, human dimensions of conservation.
    How do human activities affect the environment, and what are the implications of such environmental impacts on human livelihoods? How would future demand for food and bioenergy impact biodiversity conservation? Can we change human attitudes toward conservation and climate change by modifying the way we frame these issues?
  • Laura Russo (,, – Plant-pollinator ecology, agroecology, insect conservation, mutualisms.
    What is the relationship between the structure and function of networks of species interactions? What are the best ways to manage complex interactions between communities of species? What are some win-win scenarios between agriculture and conservation? How can we best promote pollinator health in managed ecosystems?
  • Kimberly Sheldon (, – Climate change and species range shifts, integrating ecophysiology into conservation planning, local knowledge.
    How can we accommodate species range shifts in conservation planning? What is the best way to integrate physiological data into biodiversity planning? How can local knowledge and scientific understanding be integrated for effective conservation?
  • Daniel Simberloff (,– Impacts and management of biological invasions, invasive species denialism.
    What accounts for lag times in invasion impacts? Under what circumstances do invasions spontaneously collapse?  How can non-target impacts of biological control be minimized?  Under what circumstances do native species act like non-native invaders?

The following faculty members do not anticipate recruiting Conservation Science students as lead advisor in the current recruitment round. They are all very active in our research community and will interact with applicants via the cohort dynamic described above.

  • Mike Blum (,– Aquatic conservation, coastal sustainability, urban socioecology and public health. To what extent is coastal erosion moderated by genotypic variation in foundational plants? To what extent does evolution determine the future of coastal ecosystems? What are the socioecological outcomes of counter-urbanization? How do socioecological interventions following disasters shape zoonotic disease risk in affected communities?
  • Nina Fefferman (, – (Re)emerging infectious diseases, wildlife health, disease spill-over.
    What underlying theories explain whether spread of a newly introduced infection through multi-host ecosystems will alter community dynamics to drive some populations extinct? Can we improve predictive models of multi-pathogen, multi-host disease dynamics to improve endangered species management? Can we predict which currently thriving species may become endangered under disease threat from various categories of pathogens?
  • Charlie Kwit (, – Threatened species conservation and management, land use change impacts on biodiversity and mutualisms.
    What are the effects of land management and land-use change on biodiversity and species of greatest conservation need? How do land management and land-use change affect mutualistic biotic interactions (esp. pollination and seed dispersal)?
  • Mona Papeş (, – Ecological niche models, shifting species distributions, remote sensing.
    How can we make ecological niche models relevant to conservation practitioners? How often are future projections of species’ distributions integrated into management plans? What are possible new ways of making use of remotely sensed data in conservation action?


In addition, other colleagues in EEB may recruit students as part of this effort.

Applications are due 1st December 2021 for enrolment in August 2022, but applicants are strongly encouraged to contact prospective advisors now. An email to one or more of the above faculty advisors is the first step. We will be running web-based information sessions throughout Fall about the new unit, what it offers to students and how they can prepare competitive applications. Reach out to a potential advisor in the first instance and they will share more information with you.

We look forward to hearing from you – we would be excited to have you join this exciting endeavor.

Paul Armsworth, Mike Blum, Ben Fitzpatrick, Nina Fefferman, Orou Gaoue, Xingli Giam, Charlie Kwit, Mona Papes, Laura Russo, Kimberly Sheldon, and Dan Simberloff

All qualified applicants will receive equal consideration for employment and admissions without regard to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, pregnancy, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, physical or mental disability, or covered veteran status. Eligibility and other terms and conditions of employment benefits at The University of Tennessee are governed by laws and regulations of the State of Tennessee, and this non-discrimination statement is intended to be consistent with those laws and regulations. In accordance with the requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, The University of Tennessee affirmatively states that it does not discriminate on the basis of race, sex, or disability in its education programs and activities, and this policy extends to employment by the University. Inquiries and charges of violation of Title VI (race, color, and national origin), Title IX (sex), Section 504 (disability), ADA (disability), Age Discrimination in Employment Act (age), sexual orientation, or veteran status should be directed to the Office of Equity and Diversity (OED), 1840 Melrose Avenue, Knoxville, TN  37996-3560, telephone (865) 974-2498.  Requests for accommodation of a disability should be directed to the ADA Coordinator at the Office of Equity and Diversity.