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(BBSRC DTP) The influence of fungal networks on the success of tree-planting schemes

   Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr F Cox, Prof D Johnson, Prof R Bardgett, Dr B Van Dongen  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Ambitious tree-planting schemes are a key part of the UK Government’s Net Zero Strategy, but we understand little about the plant-soil interactions that will govern the success or failure of a tree planted in any given location. Trees typically form associations with either ectomycorrhizal (ECM) or arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi, which form intimate symbioses with the tree’s roots, providing the tree with nutrients in exchange for a supply of carbon (C) from the host plant. There is substantial evidence to suggest that AM and ECM-forming plants can deviate in their response to various abiotic and biotic drivers1, potentially leading to differences in growth, establishment and resilience across soil conditions. Furthermore, growing evidence also suggests that AM and ECM forming trees can drive divergent patterns of soil biogeochemistry2, which is of relevance to tree planting schemes aimed at maximising C capture. This project aims to elucidate the key abiotic and biotic drivers that will determine how ECM or AM-forming trees are likely to establish, grow and resist perturbation, and subsequently drive C-cycling in planted sites. 

Specifically, we will test how soil nutrient status and mycorrhizal inoculum availability alters the establishment success of different tree species, and whether the response is dependent on tree mycorrhizal type. We will subject established trees to drought to test whether the availability of AM or ECM inoculum alters the resistance and resilience of newly planted trees to drought, and how this interacts with the availability of key soil nutrients. We will then consider how AM and ECM trees alter the C-cycling of newly planted sites, measuring C movement belowground and characterising the degree of decomposition of soil organic matter in the presence of AM and ECM -associated trees. 

These hypotheses will be tested using a series of controlled-environment and field-based experiments, combined with state-of-the-art stable isotope methods to quantify movement of C fixed through photosynthesis belowground, and py-GC/MS to characterise the organic geochemistry of soils inhabited by AM and ECM trees. The student will be part of the Soil and Ecosystem Ecology group at Manchester, which is a diverse, vibrant and well-funded research group exploring belowground communities and their response to global change.


Applicants must have obtained or be about to obtain a First or Upper Second class UK honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science, engineering or technology. 

Before you Apply

Applicants must make direct contact with preferred supervisors before applying. It is your responsibility to make arrangements to meet with potential supervisors, prior to submitting a formal online application.

How To Apply

To be considered for this project you MUST submit a formal online application form - full details on eligibility how to apply can be found on the BBSRC DTP website https://www.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/study/research/bbsrc-dtp/

Your application form must be accompanied by a number of supporting documents by the advertised deadlines. Without all the required documents submitted at the time of application, your application will not be processed and we cannot accept responsibility for late or missed deadlines. Incomplete applications will not be considered. If you have any queries regarding making an application please contact our admissions team [Email Address Removed]

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website https://www.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/study/research/apply/equality-diversity-inclusion/

Funding Notes

Studentship funding is for 4 years. This scheme is open to both the UK and international applicants. We are only able to offer a limited number of studentships to applicants outside the UK. Therefore, full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.


1) Bennett, J. A., & Klironomos, J. (2019) Mechanisms of plant–soil feedback: interactions among biotic and abiotic drivers. New Phytologist, 222(1), 91-96. 2) Soudzilovskaia, N. A., van Bodegom, P. M., Terrer, C., Zelfde, M. V. T., McCallum, I., Luke McCormack, M., ... & Tedersoo, L. (2019) Global mycorrhizal plant distribution linked to terrestrial carbon stocks. Nature communications, 10(1), 1-10.

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