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An integrated study of genetics and silviculture in Continuous Cover Forestry in Britain

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, March 01, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

SUPERVISORS: Professor John MacKay (University of Oxford), Dr Gary Kerr (Forest Research)


There are three application deadlines, but you are strongly encouraged to apply in November or January.

- Friday 16 November 2018
- Friday 25 January 2019
- Friday 1 March 2019



Continuous Cover Forestry (CCF) is a management approach that facilitates the integration of production forestry and conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services. CCF is used in more and more woodlands in Great-Britain (GB). It is commonly makes use of natural regrowth via seeds from the canopy trees to regenerate the forest. It is unclear if the abundance, distribution, survival and genetic diversity of the regrowth will limit or enhance productivity, adaptability or resilience in many British woodlands. This is because they are formed of planted non-native conifers in contrast to native species as found in CCF-managed woodlands in continental Europe and North America. The genetic makeup and diversity of the standing canopy trees and transmission of the gene pool to the next generation are crucial for adaptability to climate change and resistance to biotic threats (diseases and insects) but they are poorly understood in planted GB woodlands. The project will fill knowledge gaps in this area by using DNA fingerprinting of forest genetic resources, which has become very accessible with the expanding genomic knowledge base and new genomic technologies. The project will study forestry estates that have implemented CCF and present both mature canopy trees and established regeneration in Douglas-fir, western hemlock and other conifers on a sizeable land area. The project is a partnership of the University of Oxford and Forest Research.


The development of CCF in GB uniquely relies on planted non-native conifers but it is unclear if their present and future diversity will support long-term objectives. The project will analyse canopy trees and natural regeneration in planted woodlands. The objectives are to: 1) Develop an understanding of stand structure and dynamics by analysing the age and spatial distribution of the natural regeneration, and individual tree volumes of canopy trees; 2) Characterize the standing genetic diversity in canopy trees and the gene flow to the natural regeneration by using DNA fingerprinting.
The research outputs will form an evidence base to help manage woodlands aiming to preserve, optimally utilise or enhance the genetic resources that they contain. They will inform forest managers of potential practices to achieve suitable levels of genetic diversity including plantation of new materials. There is very little or no data to address this issue at present. The project also aims to demonstrate the relative ease of using DNA markers in applied forestry. The primary communication of results will target peer-reviewed scientific journals and conferences. The findings will also be communicated to lay audiences in areas of conservation, biodiversity, forestry and woodlands, and the student will engage with the UK forest genetic resource program to develop dissemination opportunities.


The student appointed to this project will gain experience in population genetics, silviculture, genetic and forest stand data modelling, DNA fingerprinting methods, forest biology and mensuration, and communication with forestry end-users. Students should also be able to demonstrate strong mathematical and statistical skills. The project would suit a student with a relevant academic background including biological sciences, forestry, environmental sciences and proven research experience in a relevant discipline.
The project combines innovative research and short-term impact on a practical problem of environmental and economic sustainability. The student candidate will work with the project team to define the research approach and methodology. The training involves regular interactions with forestry estate managers and research supervisors.

Funding Notes

Prospective students are encouraged to apply to the Oxford Interdisciplinary Bioscience DTP and the Oxford Environmental Research DTP. International applicants are encouraged to explore scholarship options that are available to them through the University of Oxford, their home countries or organisations such as the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission.


Davies O, Kerr G (2015) Comparing the Costs and Revenues of Transformation to Continuous Cover Forestry for Sitka Spruce in Great Britain. Forests 2015, 6, 2424-2449.

Eckhart T., Walcher, S., Hasenauer, H. et al. (2017) Genetic diversity and adaptive traits of European versus American Douglas-fir seedlings. European Journal of Forest Research 136: 811.

Godbout J., Tremblay L., Levasseur C., Lavigne P., Rainville A., Mackay J., Bousquet J., Isabel N. (2017) Development of a traceability system based on a SNP array for large-scale production of high-value white spruce (Picea glauca). Frontiers in Plant Science. 8: 1264.

Graudal L, Aravanopoulos F, Bennadji Z, Changtragoon S, Fady B, Kjær ED, Loo J, Ramamonjisoa L, Vendramin GG (2014) Global to local genetic diversity indicators of evolutionary potential in tree species within and outside forests. Forest Ecology and Management, 333: 35-51.

Kerr G, Snellgrove M, Hale S, Stokes V (2017) The Bradford-Hutt system for transforming young even-aged stands to continuous cover management. Forestry, (doi: 10.1093/forestry/cpx009).

Kerr G, Webber J, Mason W, Jinks R, Jennings T. (2015) Building resilience in to planted forests: recent experience from Great Britain. Paper presented to the XIV World Forestry Congress, Durban, South Africa, 7-11 September 2015.

Mason B & Kerr G (2004) Transforming even-aged conifer stands to Continuous Cover management. Forestry Commission Information Note 40, Forestry Commission, Edinburgh.

Poore A, Kerr G (2009) Continuous Cover Silviculture at the Stourhead (Western) Estate, Wiltshire, UK. Quarterly Journal of Forestry, 103:23-30.

Prunier J., Verta J.-P., MacKay J.J. (2015) Conifer genomics and adaptation: at the crossroads of genetic diversity and genome function. The New Phytologist (Tansley Review), 209: 44-62.

Ratnam W, ORajora OP, Finkeldey R, Filippos A, Bouvet J-M, Vaillancourt RE, Kanashiro M, Fady B, Tomita M, Vinson C (2014) Genetic effects of forest management practices: Global synthesis and perspectives. Forest Ecology and Management, 333: 52-65.

How good is research at University of Oxford in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 223.80

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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