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Ecological restoration of exploited peatlands: impacts on biodiversity and greenhouse gas fluxes

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr N Reid, Prof J Dick  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

This three-year industrially sponsored PhD project will test the efficacy of ecological restoration of commercially exploited peatlands on biodiversity, greenhouse gas flux and site hydrology.

Ecological restoration of peatlands has become a major topic in conservation in recent years as historically exploited bogs are rewetted to reactivate previous lost carbon sequestration and storage tackling global climate change whilst reversing biodiversity loss. Such nature-based solutions were front and centre at the recent COP26 meeting in Glasgow, 2021, where nation states agreed to reach Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions and restore biodiversity by 2050.

Over the last decade, Bulrush Horticulture Ltd. has undertaken restoration of harvested peatlands by landscape reprofiling, creating new bog pools and raising the water table through drain blocking to waterlog remaining peat. This project aims to quantify landscape regreening, plant (re)colonization, CO2 sequestration rates and (re)establishment of key peatland invertebrate bioindicators compared to existing unexploited sites. Possible focal studies may include:

1) Analysis of time-series satellite imagery and Geographical Information System (GIS) habitat maps throughout the UK and Ireland to identify exploited peatlands. Quantification of activity (ongoing extraction or the date of cessation) and subsequent revegetation of the latter (change in Normalised Vegetation Difference Index) under wet or dry different conditions (determined from surface reflectance values) determining the extent and trajectory of peatland rewetting creating functional bog. This will contextualise the study at the wider scale demonstrating the scope for peatland restoration at national and regional scales.

2) Use of an aerial drone and LIDAR to survey exploited peatlands in the process of restoration, mapping the extent of exposed peat and habitat cover capturing the trajectory of restoration compared to control sites. Within-site spatial analysis of site hydrology to examine water table levels and peat reactivation.

3) Survey of aquatic alga, mosses and higher plants associated with recreated bog pools of varying age describing colonisation rates and convergence/divergence from natural peatland conditions.

4) Survey of peatland specialist aquatic invertebrates (dragonflies, damselflies etc.), and terrestrial invertebrates (beetles and spiders) as peatland bioindicators associated with bog pools of varying age as compared to natural peatland conditions.

5) Use of plexiglass headspace chambers and gas analysers to measure gas fluxes directly from wet and dry bare peat surfaces and restored bog pools of varying age. Description of carbon flux rates (sources and sinks). These figures will be spatially and temporally extrapolated to estimate the scope of ecological restoration for carbon sequestration and storage at the national and regional scale.

This project will be supervised by Dr Neil Reid and Professor Jaimie Dick (Queen's University School of Biological Sciences).

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Duration: 3 years

How to apply: Applications must be submitted via

Eligibility: Applicants must have a UK 2.1 Bachelor's degree (or qualifications considered by the University to be equivalent) and must meet the criteria specified in the Funding Notes section. Applicants must also hold a driver's license.

Funding Notes

This studentship is funded by the Northern Ireland Department for the Economy (DfE) in association with industrial partner Bulrush Horticulture Ltd. Includes tuition fees and stipend plus consumables and expenses. There will also be a three-month placement embedded within the industrial partner's organisation.
Candidates must be normally resident in the UK for the three year period prior to 1 October 2022. For non-EU nationals, the main purpose of residence must not have been to receive full-time education. Non-UK or Irish nationals must also have pre-settled or settled status (EU nationals) or settled status (non-EU nationals).
Full eligibility criteria:
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