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PhD Research Project

Assessing arctic plant biodiversity and decomposition in a changing environment using novel DNA barcoding and metabolic fingerprinting – ARCTIC BAROMICS

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Institution Location

Aberystwyth University
Dr D Gwynn-Jones
Dr N De Vere
No more applications being accepted
Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

The Arctic is warming at an alarming rate with permafrost melting, with impacts on biodiversity and globally important biogeochemical processes. This Ph.D. studentship will develop a “biological barometer” of change in the Arctic initially based around plant responses to environmental changes but developing approaches that will evaluate impacts via leaf litter, decomposition and gaseous fluxes.

The student will be trained in classical spatio-temporal vegetation analysis combined with novel applications of DNA barcoding (e.g. Kesankurti et al. 2011, Molecular Ecology 20,1289-1302) and metabolite fingerprinting (e.g. Gidman et al. 2005 Metabolomics 1(3): 279-295). These and a range of other approaches will be used for species, leaf and root litter identification and for quality assessment of plant inputs to the soil. Plant growth and morphology, subsequent decomposition (roots and leaves), and gaseous exchange and biogeochemical cycling at the community and species level will be quantified. Litter breakdown, peat formation and rooting of tundra heath systems will be followed based on the decomposition of known vegetative inputs (leaf litter and roots) and how they regulate ecosystem CO2 exchange. Inputs of plant materials will be varied according to anticipated species changes associated with future warming and elevated CO2. We will also assess how these environmental factors affect tissue quality in order to predict future decomposition rates and CO2 exchange.

Key aims include:
• To provide first class field and laboratory training in the UK and Sweden
• To assess the use of soil as an archive of past vegetation changes
• To investigate the past, present and future relationship between species, litter and root inputs into the soil and how they interact to determine whether a community is a source or sink for carbon.

All field work will be conducted at the Abisko Scientific Research Station in Swedish Lapland and benefit from a wealth of work at this site on environmental and biotic changes over the past 100 years. The student will be based at IBERS Aberystwyth but will spend periods undertaking field work at Abisko Scientific Research Station ( and laboratory analyses at the National Botanic Garden of Wales (

Supervisors: Dr. Dylan Gwynn-Jones (IBERS), Dr. Natasha de Vere (IBERS & NBGW) and Dr. John Scullion (IBERS).

"Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a First Class or Upper second class honours degree and/or a masters degree
(or equivalent) in a relevant subject."

We encourage prospective candidates to contact the lead supervisor Dr Dylan Gwynn Jones; 01970 622318.

Funding Notes:

This project is one available as part of the IBERS PhD Studentships initiative. This is an open competition.
Subsistenace rates will be in accordance with current Research Council rates.

Applications through PG Admissions - - please ensure that you enter the lead supervisors name under 'name of proposed research supervisor'.


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