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Biodiversity responses to tree planting across a land sharing-sparing gradient

   PHD Opportunities

  , , Dr John Holland,  Thursday, December 16, 2021  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Edinburgh United Kingdom Agricultural Sciences Biodiversity Ecology Forestry & Arboriculture Zoology

About the Project

The restoration of degraded landscapes is a global imperative to mitigate the current climate and biodiversity crises. International commitments such as the UN’s Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030 recognise tree cover expansion as a key priority for landscape restoration, and many nations have ambitious afforestation targets. For instance, the Scottish Government has pledged to plant 12,000 ha of trees per year, increasing to 15,000 ha from 2024. With agricultural land covering over 70% of the UK, a large proportion of tree cover expansion is likely to take place on farmland. However, there is much debate in the scientific and practitioner communities on the relative merits of alternative afforestation strategies.

Trees can be planted in a range of spatial configurations along a gradient of land-sparing (e.g. woodland patches) to land-sharing (e.g. in agroforestry systems that integrate trees with crops or livestock). Farm woodlands are a common feature of UK landscapes, but their creation often requires taking land out of agricultural production. Conversely, agroforestry systems have the potential to reduce these trade-offs in land use, resulting in calls to promote their take-up as a complementary approach to achieve the UK’s afforestation targets. Whilst both these strategies have the potential to deliver a range of biodiversity benefits, they are unlikely to be equivalent; for example, woodland specialist species associated with more cluttered, densely-shaded environments are unlikely to utilise sparsely-wooded agroforestry areas that may in turn provide better resources for generalist species.

The overall aim of this studentship is to compare the biodiversity benefits of separating versus integrating trees with food production systems. The study will focus on vertebrate communities known to be influenced by agricultural intensification, and to respond to habitat creation fairly quickly (e.g. birds and bats). Biodiversity data will be collected using full-spectrum acoustic recorders (e.g. AudioMoths) to monitor animal vocalisations and characterise the ultrasonic and audible “soundscapes” (which can be used to detect shifts in faunal communities). Study sites will include woodland patches planted on former agricultural land (part of the ongoing WrEN project) and agroforestry sites (to be identified through SRUC’s close links with land managers, e.g. via the Agroforestry RISS group). Additionally, a component of the study will focus on investigating land managers’ perceptions of the integration of trees into agricultural systems, to determine constraints and perceived trade-offs with food production. This work will generate empirical evidence to underpin tree cover expansion strategies that maximise the biodiversity benefits derived from trees in agricultural landscapes.


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Please fill out the application form and equal opportunities form and send it along with your academic qualifications to , quoting reference SRUC/EF.

Please send the academic reference form to two academic/professional referees, and ask them to submit it by the deadline mentioned above to .

Funding Notes

This 3.5 year PhD studentship is open to UK and international students, providing funding to cover UKRI level stipend and UK level tuition fees.

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