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Building resilient ecologies in a post-COVID 19 Anthropocene landscape


School of Geography, Geology and the Environment

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Prof M Williams , Dr J C Berrio , Dr S D Sabbata , Dr M Burns No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
Leicester United Kingdom Ecology Hydrology Other

About the Project

Funding Source: CENTA DTP

Start: September 2021

Project Highlights

• A multidisciplinary project at the cutting-edge of Anthropocene research that seeks to establish resilient ecologies for the future

• A project that is designed to enhance the environment for human and nonhuman occupants

• The opportunity to work closely with a Wildlife Trust organisation

Overview

The English Midlands are a highly human-modified landscape that is farmed, managed, and urban, with remnant woodlands. Into these landscapes non-native species have been introduced such as the Jenkin’s spire snail and Japanese knotweed, reflecting a global phenomenon of accelerating homogenisation of the biosphere. Introduced species can be beneficial, neutral or damaging. Many proliferate where human environmental impacts are significant and where native species are on the back foot. This begs the question of what facilitates these introductions and their subsequent expansion, and such a question is also germane to understanding how invasive pathogens – like Covid-19 –are introduced and proliferate.

Worldwide, species introductions have accelerated over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries as a result of globalisation, and especially so in the late 20th century. We wish to establish a detailed record of introduced species into one region of the English Midlands during this period, taking Leicestershire and Rutland as a model. The two counties are a microcosm of England in general, with a range of landscapes from moorland to wetland, industrial and urban. We will assess times of introduction relative to first arrival in the UK, modes of introduction (human vectors, climate change), distribution, and abundance in different ecologies. We will characterise introduced organisms in terms of their impact on ecologies. We will investigate archives from hydroecological systems (e.g. sediment/fossil archives in wetlands, lakes, canals and rivers) to reconstruct a temporal (biostratigraphical) record of introduction, targeting such organisms as molluscs and crustaceans, and utilising the fossil record of pollen and spores. When coupled with chronological markers, like carbon-dating or patterns of fly ash accumulation, our combined geo-ecological approach will examine rates of introduction and proliferation compared with temporal landscape change (agricultural/urban), transportation (e.g. canals, rail, roads), influx of non-biodegradable materials (e.g. landfills), and removal of barriers (e.g. re-engineering rivers). Identifying key drivers of detrimental and beneficial ecological change will inform the design of ecosystems that are ‘future proofed’ against harmful introduced species.

Methodology

The project will analyse available datasets to build a spatial analysis of introduced species that can be correlated with land use. It will explore the use of data from volunteered geographic information projects, such as iNaturalist, to evaluate the current spread of species throughout the region. Targeted fieldwork will ground truth impacts on ecologies that are affected by introduced species. Comparison timelines for introductions into the UK will be used to analyse and model routes and rates by which introduced species infiltrated the local region. Geo-ecological archives of species invasion (sedimentary archives from wetlands, rivers, lakes, canals, ponds) will be collected, utilising state-of-the-art coring equipment. Sediment sampling will examine, for example, the fossil record of the spread of non-indigenous plants via residential gardens or transport networks. Geological and ecological analyses will be integrated to develop land use practices that foster diverse ecosystems that exclude damaging invasive organisms.

Training and skills

Students will be awarded CENTA2 Training Credits (CTCs) for participation in CENTA2-provided and ‘free choice’ external training. One CTC equates to 1⁄2 day session and students must accrue 100 CTCs across the three years of their PhD.

You will receive detailed training in micro- and macrofossil analysis (spores, pollen, molluscs, arthropods) and stratigraphical approaches to determine late Holocene and Anthropocene environmental change. These are core skills applicable to careers in geological, geographical and archaeological contexts. In tandem –and working with the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust –you will acquire skills in understanding how ecosystems have been reconfigured by humans, the impact of introduced species, and how ecologies may be restored. These are core skills applicable to careers in environmental science and conservation. Further skills will be developed in archive analysis, computer modelling, GIS, and integrated datasets.

Entry requirements

Applicants are required to hold/expect to obtain a UK Bachelor Degree 2:1 or better in a relevant subject.

University of Leicester English language requirements https://le.ac.uk/study/research-degrees/entry-reqs/eng-lang-reqs

To apply refer to https://le.ac.uk/study/research-degrees/funded-opportunities/centa-phd-studentships


Funding Notes

This studentship is one of a number of fully funded studentships available to the best UK and EU candidates available as part of the NERC DTP CENTA consortium.

For more details of the CENTA consortium please see the CENTA website: https://centa.ac.uk/

References

Dinerstein, E. et al. (2017) ‘An ecoregion-based approach to protecting half of the terrestrial realm’, Bioscience, 67, pp. 534-545.
Jeschke, J. (2018) ‘Invasion Biology: Hypotheses and Evidence’ CABI.

Lewis, M.A. et al. (2016) ‘The Mathematics Behind Biological Invasions’, Interdisciplinary Applied Mathematics, 44. pp. 1-362.

Thomas, J. A. et al. (2020) ‘The Anthropocene: a multidisciplinary approach’, Polity books.

Wilson, E. O. (2016), ‘Half-Earth: our planet’s fight for life’, Liveright.

Williams, M. et al. (2016), ‘The Anthropocene: a conspicuous stratigraphical signal of anthropogenic changes in production and consumption across the biosphere’, Earth's Future, 4, pp. 34–53.
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