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Carbon leakage in forest ecosystems

Project Description


The ability of forest ecosystems to store carbon (C; e.g. CO2) above and belowground makes afforestation one of the leading measures to fight climate change. Atmospheric CO2 is trapped in the vegetation and then stored in the forest soil, from where it cycles back to the atmosphere as a result of soil respiration (SR). SR is a complex soil microbial process depending on the soil properties and composition, hydro-climatic conditions, and vegetation type. The succession of drying and wetting hydrological cycles within the forest soil seems to trigger “hot-spots” and “hot-moments” of SR, by which large amounts of CO2 are released from the soil. Over 50 % of this CO2 may be released in dissolved form, entering the soil solution and, thus, being potentially lost through soil percolation and then transported to other environmental compartments. Yet, the latter component of the C cycle has been largely neglected, leading to systematic underestimations of SR and to an inaccurate account on the contribution of forest ecosystems to mitigating climate change.


The aims of the project are to:
• Explore the combination of biological, edaphological, and climatic factors regulating Soil Respiration
• Investigate plant traits contributing to the formation of “hot-spots” and “hot-moments” of soil respiration
• Quantify C leakage through soil percolation
• Build numerical models able to describe and predict C leakage in forest soils under different climate scenarios
• Disseminate the project outcomes to relevant stakeholders


The successful applicant will be able to demonstrate understanding of ecosystems functioning and biogeochemical and hydrological cycles. Expertise undertaking field and laboratory work is desirable. A good grasp of statistical methods and tools, such as R, is preferable. Effective oral and written communication skills are mandatory.

Candidates are requested to submit a more detailed research proposal (of a maximum of 2000 words) on the project area as part of their application.

Research Strategy and Research Profile

Glasgow Caledonian University’s research is framed around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, We address the Goals via three societal challenge areas of Inclusive Societies, Healthy Lives and Sustainable Environments. For more. This project is part of the research activity of the Research Group – Nature-based Solutions and Eco-Engineering.

How to Apply

This project is available as a 3 years full-time PhD study programme with a start date of 1st October 2019.

Applicants will normally hold a UK honours degree 2:1 (or equivalent); or a Masters degree in a subject relevant to the research project. Equivalent professional qualifications and any appropriate research experience may be considered. A minimum English language level of IELTS score of 6.5 (or equivalent) with no element below 6.0 is required. Some research disciplines may require higher levels.

Candidates are encouraged to contact the research supervisors for the project before applying. Applicants should complete the online GCU Research Application Form, stating the Project Title and Reference Number (listed above).

Please also attach to the online application, copies of academic qualifications (including IELTS if required), 2 references and any other relevant documentation.

Please send any enquiries regarding your application to: Applicants shortlisted for the PhD project will be contacted for an interview.

For more information on How to apply and the online application form please go to

Dr Alejandro Gonzalez Ollauri

Funding Notes

A variety of scholarship packages including fully funded studentships and fees only scholarships are available to deserving UK/EU and international candidates. The fully funded studentships are worth £19,300 per year for 3 years, subject to satisfactory progress. They cover payment of tuition fees at the UK/EU rate and an annual stipend of £14,800.

Please see the GCU website for further details on the scholarship packages available.

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