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ACCE DTP fully funded studentship - Earthworms as ploughs and bioreactors: optimising management for sustainable soils

   School of Biosciences

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  Prof Ed Rhodes  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Sheffield United Kingdom Agricultural Sciences Ecology Environmental Biology Hydrology Microbiology Soil Science

About the Project

Earthworms are ecosystem engineers; burrowing significantly impacts soil causing substantial particle movement, influencing soil physical properties and affecting many soil ecosystem services including food production, water retention and carbon storage. However, rates of bioturbation and earthworm responses to different land management techniques and climate change are currently poorly constrained. This hinders the incorporation of soil bioturbation within robust predictive models of landscape response to changes in management and climate. Preliminary findings show that luminescence signals can detect when mineral grains are transported to the surface and subsequently become buried in the soil profile. Earthworms also impact mineral coatings on grains as soil passes through the gut, affecting how luminescence signals respond, so this project will also study microbialmineral coating relationships providing better understanding of biogeochemical functioning within soil.

Objectives: This studentship will develop two novel techniques, applied alongside well-established approaches (laboratory and field trials), to study how earthworms influence soil characteristics.

1) Establish novel method for tracing soil particle movement using luminescence.

2) Refine methods for understanding how passage through the earthworm gut affects mineralogy of grain coatings as this impacts luminescence signal reduction by light.

This project will involve both controlled laboratory experiments and field-based mesocosm experiments. The student will receive training in a range of techniques including luminescence dating, microbiology, soil analysis, and earthworm identification. The student will be based at the University of Sheffield but will spend time working at the University of York and the British Geological Survey in Keyworth as appropriate, and with project partners on farms spanning Leicestershire and Derbyshire. The study is extremely timely, helping landowners, managers and farmers develop and maintain sustainable soils, and face the multiple challenges of climate change and economic uncertainties related to COVID-19 and Brexit.

This PhD project is part of the NERC funded Doctoral Training Partnership “ACCE” (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment. ACCE is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, York, CEH, and NHM, for more information about ACCE and how to apply please visit the website:

The NERC ACCE DTP and the University of Sheffield 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. "

 How to apply:

All applicants to ACCE must complete the ACCE personal statement proforma. This is instead of a normal personal/supporting statement/cover letter. The proforma is designed to standardise this part of the application to minimise the difference between those who are given support and those who are not. The proforma and more information on the ACCE application process can be found here:

Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview to take place in the w/c 21st February 2022.

Science Graduate School:

As a PhD student in one of the science departments at the University of Sheffield, you’ll be part of the Science Graduate School. You’ll get access to training opportunities designed to support your career development by helping you gain professional skills that are essential in all areas of science. You’ll be able to learn how to recognise good research and research behaviour, improve your communication abilities and experience the breadth of technologies that are used in academia, industry and many related careers. Visit to learn more.