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Effects of neuroactive chemicals on freshwater ecosystems

   Cardiff School of Biosciences

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  Dr Fredric Windsor  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Project Outline

Although we know neuroactive chemicals are pervasive in the environment, it is a major challenge to understand their effects beyond those at the level of the individual organism. Understanding the effects of neuroactive chemicals at the ecosystem scale, however, is crucial for the protection of freshwater systems and their ecological services. Part of the challenge is the complexity – with many interacting chemicals and organisms, it is difficult to track and monitor ecological effects. This is where complexity science, specifically network ecology, offers a range of theories, concepts and tools that can be applied to this field of research.

This studentship will address two main questions:

● How do neuroactive chemicals affect ecological networks at different scales (individuals, populations, communities, ecosystems)?

● Do changes in the structure of ecological networks result in alterations in ecosystem function?

Experiments, field studies and ecosystem modelling will focus on understanding how exposure affects ecological interactions at cellular to ecosystem scales – providing evidence to improve monitoring and regulation of neuroactive chemicals. There will be a natural progression through the levels of ecological complexity, investigating the effects of neuroactive chemicals on: (i) physiology of individuals (e.g., brain function); (ii) intra-specific interactions (i.e., social and behavioural networks in Danio rerio); (iii) inter-specific interactions (e.g., resource competition, parasitism and predation); (iv) merged networks (e.g., multiple types of mutualistic and antagonistic interactions).

The student will be part of thriving research communities across partnering institutions specialising in ecotoxicology and ecology. Multi-disciplinary training, working closely with regulators and policy advisors, developing science communication and engagement, and translating project outcomes into societal benefits, are core components. The student will gain expertise in ecotoxicology, ecology, network science and mathematical modelling. With close support from stakeholder partners, they will also develop an understanding of environmental monitoring, risk assessment and policy. To support the student the team will provide access to existing data, collaborative research networks in conservation and environmental management, world-leading laboratory infrastructure and training opportunities through Cardiff/Exeter and their existing NERC and BBSRC training programmes.

The project will generate some of the first policy-relevant data and knowledge on the effects and risks of neuroactive chemicals on freshwater ecosystems. By combining empirical and in silico approaches we will be able to more accurately predict risk across freshwater ecosystems and more effectively target environmental protection. Findings from the research will directly contribute UK and international commitments, such as the UK’s 25-year Environment Plan.

Supervisor: Dr Fredric Windsor -

Host organisation: Cardiff University

Partner Organisation(s): Welsh Water and The CHEM Trust


This project is one of 21 projects being advertised by the NERC-funded ECORISC (Ecotoxicological Risk Assessment Towards Sustainable Chemical Use) Centre for Doctoral Training programme. Funding will be provided for 3 years and 10 months. During this time you will work on your research project but will also receive unique and outstanding training in pollution science and transferable skills.

Over the first two years of the PhD programme, you will receive subject-specific training, in: i) ecotoxicology; ii) environmental chemistry; iii) ecology; and iv) risk assessment; and v) core skills required for an environmental specialist. The formal training programme will be complemented by yearly residential challenge events and tailored specialist skills training conducted as group and individual exercises.

ECORISC students will also be required to undertake two workplace experiences based with our business, policy and regulation, third sector and research organisation partners.

An inclusive CDT programme

Inclusivity is at the heart of the ECORISC programme. We strongly encourage applications from under-represented groups and are employing a number of mechanisms, such as the possibility of part-time working, to ensure the programme is open to all. We will ensure that individuals with disabilities are provided reasonable accommodation to participate in the application process. If you have any questions, then please don’t hesitate to contact us at [Email Address Removed].

Eligibility and Application process

The studentships are open to highly motivated UK and international/EU applicants with at least an Upper Second Class Honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject. Successful applicants will be passionate about environmental pollution science and want their science to make a difference.

To be considered for this and other PhD’s offered under the ECORISC CDT, you should initially complete a short online application form available on the ECRORISC PhD Studentships web page. Applications should be submitted before 17:00 (British Summer Time) on Friday 9th December 2022. You will be notified of the outcome of the process by 17:00 Thursday 22nd December 2022.

Successful applicants will be provided with an opportunity to meet with supervisory teams and then be invited to submit a project-specific application form which will be used to shortlist candidates for an interview.

ECORISC open afternoon

We are running an online ‘open afternoon’ for you to learn more about the CDT and to ask questions on the programme or the application process. This event will run from 14:00-16:00 GMT on Wednesday 16th November 2022 and booking details can be found on the ECORISC website.

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