ACCE DTP fully-funded project: Does fire alter plant-mycorrhiza feedbacks in heathlands?

   Department of Biology

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  Dr E Wandrag, Dr T Helgason  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Lead Supervisor: Dr Lizzie Wandrag (University of York Department of Biology)

Co-supervisor:  Prof. Thorunn Helgason (University of York Department of Biology) , Lindsay Banin (CEH)

The student will be registered with the Department of Biology.


Global fire regimes are changing. In the UK, fires are become more frequent and sometimes more severe. These changes irrevocably alter plant and soil communities, potentially affecting important interactions between plants and symbiotic soil mutualists. Changing plant-soil mutualisms influence crucial ecosystem functions such as nutrient cycling, soil carbon storage and plant growth, as well as above- and below-ground biodiversity. However, the effects of changing fire regimes on plant-soil interactions remains a significant research gap.


The project will focus on UK heathlands where several major shrub taxa form specialised symbioses with mycorrhizal fungi. It will examine interactions between focal plant species and mycorrhizal fungi in response to varying fire frequencies to determine: 1) how fire frequency affects plant-mycorrhizal symbioses; and 2) the ecological and/or functional consequences of these effects. It will test the hypothesis that infrequent fires create positive plant-soil feedback loops that favour monodominance by some species, while frequent fires disrupt symbioses to favour processes such as invasion.

Possible approaches include field and glasshouse experiments, molecular techniques and statistical modelling, depending on student interests. There is scope for the student to develop the project in line with their own research interests, and it would suit students with an interest in plant community ecology, microbial ecology, or nutrient cycling. There will be opportunities to collaborate with research groups in either the Mediterranean or Australia.

Novelty & Timeliness

The increasing frequency of fires in the UK suggests an urgent need to understand the impacts of extreme fires on ecosystems. However, it is only relatively recently that the crucial role of plant-soil interactions for ecosystem processes and biodiversity has been recognised. Consequently, we know very little about the effects of fires on plant-soil interactions. Increased understanding of the soil ecosystem sets the stage for addressing this important research gap.

The ACCE DTP and the University of York are committed to recruiting future scientists regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or career pathway to date. We understand that commitment and excellence can be shown in many ways and we have built our recruitment process to reflect this. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds, particularly those underrepresented in science, who have curiosity, creativity and a drive to learn new skills.

Entry Requirements: Students with, or expecting to gain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply. The interdisciplinary nature of this programme means that we welcome applications from students with backgrounds in any biological, chemical, and/or physical science, or students with mathematical backgrounds who are interested in using their skills in addressing biological, ecological or evolutionary questions. 

Programme: PhD in ACCE (4 years)

Start Date: 1st October 2022 (the student will be registered with the Department of Biology)

Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed in the w/c 21 February 2022

Funding Notes

This project is part of the NERC ACCE Doctoral Training Partnership. Appointed candidates will be fully-funded for 3.5 years. The funding includes:
Tax-free annual UKRI stipend (£15,609 for 2021/22 starts)
UK tuition fees (£4,500 for 2021/22)
Research support and training charges
We aim to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK and are able to offer a limited number of bursaries that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants. These full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.

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