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Community assembly processes of soil ammonia oxidisers under different nitrogen use efficiency strategies

Project Description

Microbial communities mediate important global biogeochemical cycles and a better understanding of the mechanisms of community assembly is therefore important. Microbial community assembly is considered to be governed by both deterministic and stochastic processes. Stochastic processes control for community assembly in an unperturbed and stable environment based on neutral theory assembly through dispersal, drift and speciation. In contrast, deterministic assembly can result from natural or anthropogenic environmental perturbations, which induces selection of microbial traits, so that the community is optimised to face the environmental change. This PhD project aims to determine the impact of diverse acute and chronic environmental perturbations on microbial community processes in a system of high ecological and economic importance. Ammonia oxidisers are abundant and ubiquitous microbes on Earth and perform a critical ecosystem function, ammonia oxidation to nitrite, which is the limiting step of nitrification. Nitrification leads to considerable loss of N fertiliser, nitrate leaching into groundwaters and production of greenhouse gases. Therefore, several nitrogen use efficiency strategies are commonly used world-wide to intensify agriculture needs, including massive and costly nitrogen fertilisation and diverse nitrification inhibitor strategies, which all induce important environmental perturbation for microbial communities. Therefore, different nitrogen use efficiency strategies (nitrogen fertilisation and nitrification inhibition) appears a good perturbation model to study community assembly processes of ecologically and economically important microbes.

The PhD student will join a dynamic team of researchers headed by Dr Gubry-Rangin (University of Aberdeen). This well-established group with world-wide recognised reputation in microbial ecology and a high-impact track record focuses on ecology and evolution of ammonia oxidisers in various terrestrial ecosystems (Gubry-Rangin et al., 2015; Hink et al., 2018). The student will also strongly interact with the research group of Dr Caruso (Queen’s University Belfast), widely renowned for ecological theory of soil organisms, including community assembly processes (Caruso et al., 2011).

The PhD student will be part of a cohort of PhD students interested in environmental management, biodiversity and earth systems science, and will collaborate with a broad network of end-users and stake-holders. An excellent scientific environment will be provided to the student, with training on several state-of-the-art technological facilities, including highly-specialised cytometry and genomic platforms and cutting-edge molecular and environmental facilities. The PhD student will therefore benefit from excellence in environmental science research with specific knowledge on research impact and policies critical for the Sustainable Development Goals, while gaining a diverse range of transferable and generic skills to ensure their competitive future career paths

Funding Notes

This studentship is available to UK and other EU nationals and provides funding for tuition fees and stipend, subject to eligibility.
Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject.


• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences
• State name of the lead supervisor as the Name of Proposed Supervisor
• State ‘QUADRAT DTP’ as Intended Source of Funding
• State the exact project title on the application form


Gubry-Rangin et al. (2015) Proc Natl Acad Sci. 112:9370-5.

Hink et al. (2018) ISME J. 12:1084-93.

Caruso et al. (2011) ISME J. 5:1406-13.

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