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CENTA NERC - Impact of extreme climatic events on freshwater food webs

   School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr M E Ledger, Dr A M Milner  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Climate change is expected to increase the future occurrence of extreme events, such as severe rainstorms and droughts, with potentially devastating effects on ecosystems, yet to date most research effort has centered on the impacts of gradually shifting ‘average’ conditions, not extremes. In freshwaters, shifts in precipitation patterns will modify water supply to freshwaters, altering hydrology. Extreme events are difficult to study in natural waters because they are, by definition, rare and unpredictable. Experiments have been advocated recently as useful alternative to surveys that are often confounded by long-term change in environmental conditions, and will be used here discern causal relationships among the many underlying stressors associated with extreme events.

Methodology: This project offers the flexibility to combine research from archived data with new experiments conducted by the student in our new mesocosm facility to determine the effect of weather extremes on community structure and functioning (studying algae, invertebrates and fish) and food web
structure in replicate freshwater mesocosms located in the new Environmental Change Outdoor Laboratory (ECO-LAB) on the University of Birmingham campus. This project also benefits from being closely linked with a NERC grant investigating drought impacts on stream ecosystems. The successful candidate will also benefit from being part of a large, interdisciplinary, research team based at the University of Birmingham.

Funding Notes

In addition to completing an online application form, you will also need to complete and submit the CENTA studentship application form available from www.centa.org.uk.

CENTA studentships are for 3.5 years and are funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). In addition to the full payment of their tuition fees, successful candidates will receive the following financial support.

Annual stipend, set at £14,296 for 2016/17
Research training support grant (RTSG) of £8,000

CENTA students are required to undertake from 45 days training throughout their PhD including a 10 day placement.


Lu, X., Gray, C., Brown, L.E., Ledger, M.E., Milner, A.M., Mondragon, R., Woodward, G., Ma, A. (2016) Drought rewires the cores of food webs. Nature Climate Change, 6, 875–878.
Woodward, G., Bonada, N., Brown, L.E., Death, R.G., Durance, I., Hladyz, S., Ledger, M.E., Milner, A.M., Ormerod, S.J., Thompson, R.M. (2016) Extreme climatic events and their consequences for biodiversity, food webs and ecosystem properties in running waters. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 371, doi: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0274.
Ledger, M.E. & Milner, A.M. (2015) Extreme events in running waters. Freshwater Biology, 60, 2455-2460.Ledger, M.E. & Milner, A.M. (2015) Extreme events in running waters. Freshwater Biology. doi:10.1111/fwb.12673.
Ledger, M.E., Brown, L.E., Edwards, F.K., Hudson, L.N., Milner, A.M., Woodward, G. (2013). Extreme climatic events alter complex food webs: evidence from a mesocosm drought experiment. Advances in Ecological Research, 48, 343-395.
Ledger M.E., Brown L.E., Edwards F., Woodward G., Milner A.M. (2013) Drought impacts on the structure and functioning of complex food webs. Nature Climate Change, 3, 223-227.
Ledger M.E., Harris R.M.L., Armitage P.D. & Milner, A.M. (2012). Climate change impacts on community resilience: experimental evidence from a drought disturbance experiment. Advances in Ecological Research, 46, 211-258.
Woodward, G., Brown, L., Edwards, F.K., Hudson, L.N., Milner, A.M., Reuman, D.C. & Ledger, M.E.(2012). Climate change impacts in multispecies systems: drought alters food web size-structure in a field experiment. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 367 (1605), 2990-2997.
Ledger, M.E., Edwards, F., Brown, L.E., Woodward, G. & Milner, A.M. (2011) Impact of simulated drought on ecosystem biomass production: an experimental test in stream mesocosms. Global Change Biology, 17, 2288-2297.
Brown, L.E., Edwards, F., Milner, A.M., Woodward, G & Ledger, M.E. (2011) Food web complexity and allometric scaling relationships in stream mesocosms: implications for experimentation. Journal of Animal Ecology, 80, 884-895.
Ledger, M.E., Harris, R.M.L., Armitage, P.D. & Milner, A.M. (2009) Realism of model ecosystems: an evaluation of physicochemistry and macroinvertebrate assemblages in artificial streams. Hydrobiologia, 617, 91-99.
Ledger, M.E., Harris, R.M.L., Armitage, P.D. & Milner, A.M. (2008) Disturbance frequency influences patch dynamics in stream benthic algal communities. Oecologia, 155, 809-819.
Harris, R.M.L., Milner, A.M.M., Armitage, P.D. & Ledger, M.E. (2007) Replicability of biodiversity and physicochemistry in stream mesocosms: implications for experimental research. Freshwater Biology, 52, 2434–2443.