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Do detritivores mediate soil health and ecosystem services in the bioenergy crop Miscanthus?

Project Description

The perennial grass Miscanthus is a leading bioenergy feedstock grown in the UK and Europe, with the land area devoted to this crop increasing with growing investment in renewable energy solutions. Research to date has focused on the potential climate mitigation and economic benefits of Miscanthus production, with limited investigation into the role of biodiversity in mediating these ecosystem services.

We know that detritivores (e.g. Collembola, Annelida and Oniscidea) play a pivotal role in supporting ecosystem services, improving nutrient availability, facilitating soil organic matter formation, acting as physical soil engineers, and increasing soil stability and water infiltration. Whilst Miscanthus plantations have been associated with changes in the abundance of detritivores, the implications for ecosystem services remain unknown. This PhD will therefore explore the role of detritivores in supporting the delivery of ecosystem services, including yield, within plantations of the bioenergy crop Miscanthus.

Based at CEH Lancaster, with time spent at the University of York, this PhD will also capitalise on an industrial CASE partnership with Terravesta Ltd. The student will have access to a UK network of (>80) Miscanthus plantations and a field trial of a newly developed Miscanthus hybrid, which provides a unique opportunity to evaluate the impacts of current and future Miscanthus hybrids on ecosystem services.

As well as training in experimental design, statistics and presentation skills, training will also be given in detritivore identification and survey techniques together with methods for the measurement of ecosystem processes, such as greenhouse gas fluxes and water infiltration rates. Terravesta will provide opportunities throughout the PhD for the student to be hosted at their headquarters as well as visits to their field sites in Poland and Eastern Europe.

This PhD will suit a student who is interested in sustainable agriculture/ecosystem services and especially in linking research to industry. Fieldwork will be an integral part of this PhD so willingness to work in variable weather conditions is essential, and a driving licence is desirable. You will need to work with land owners when accessing sites so good communication skills, a positive attitude and flexibility are key skills required although support will be given.

Applicants for a studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a 2.1 degree or higher in Ecology, Environmental Science, Geography, Biology. If you have a 2.2 degree, but have also obtained a relevant masters qualification, you are also eligible. Substantial relevant post-graduate experience may also be sufficient, please contact the supervisors for more information.

To apply please send your CV and a covering letter stating your suitability for the project to the project lead supervisor Dr Rebecca Rowe.

Funding Notes

This project is one of a number of proposed topics that are in competition for funding from the NERC ACCE Doctoral Training Partnership View Website

Full studentships (fees and stipend) are only available to UK nationals and other EU nationals that have resided in the UK for three years prior to commencing the studentship. If you are a citizen of an EU member state you will eligible for a fees-only award, and must be able to show at interview that you can support yourself for the duration of the studentship at the UKRI level.

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