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Forest degradation and ecosystem services in tropical montane forests. PhD in Geography (NERC GW4+ DTP)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, January 06, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Lead Supervisor
Dr Ted Feldpausch, University of Exeter, Department of Geography, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors
Prof Toby Pennington, Department of Geography, University of Exeter
Dr Lina Mercado, Department of Geography, University of Exeter
Dr France Gerard, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
Dr Rob Dunford, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Location: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter, EX4 4QJ

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the GW4 Alliance of research-intensive universities: the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five unique and prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in the Earth, Environmental and Life sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in scientific research, business, technology and policy-making. For further details about the programme please see http://nercgw4plus.ac.uk/

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

- A stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,009 p.a. for 2019/20) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
- Payment of university tuition fees;
- A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
- A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
- Travel and accommodation is covered for all compulsory DTP cohort events
- No course fees for courses run by the DTP

We are currently advertising projects for a total of 10 studentships at the University of Exeter

Project Background

Tropical ecosystems have undergone long-term changes that have modified biodiversity, carbon (C) storage, and ecosystem services (Navarrete et al. 2016, Hooghiemstra 1984, González-Carranza et al. 2012, Armenteras et al. 2013). In tropical Andean forests, long-term land-use has led to the major loss of forest, forming a vegetation mosaic converted for agriculture and later abandoned (Baptiste et al. 2017). While Andean forests are currently highly modified, there is little information about how changes have progressed and the drivers of change, e.g., climate, fire, historical contemporary human alteration of the landscape. This proposal seeks to identify ecosystem resilience to climate change and degradation in the Andes and to delineate ecological baselines. The PhD research project will help to address this major knowledge gap by working in tropical Andean montane forests.

Project Aims and Methods

This project will examine the ecosystem services and long-term resilience of Andean tropical forest ecosystems to environmental and climatic changes and improve understanding of the future implications of forest degradation for society. The work focuses on forests that are not pristine in that they are used by local communities and are affected by logging and fire. This fills a research gap in understanding how forests, which may be regarded as biologically ’degraded’, have undergone changes in biodiversity, in ecosystem services, and in how they participate in local and global cycles of carbon and energy. The project will achieve this through data collect contributing to the development of a network of permanent ecological monitoring plots. The research spans gradients in tropical Andean forests—with a focus on Colombia—of forest environment and degradation to allow evaluation of biodiversity and measurement of processes such as current and historical effects of fire, and carbon storage and changing climate. These data will be integrated with socio-cultural research, focusing on existing cultures of biodiversity conservation.

Methods: The PhD will involve a combination of field data collection and analysis of large vegetation and soil datasets. The field-based component will focus on forest structure measurements, fire evaluation, and collection of soil and charcoal in Amazonian forests. The analysis component will use the field and lab data to statistically evaluate the interaction between fire, climate, and forests to advance understanding of forest resilience. The student will also work with experts in ecosystem services, remote sensing, and palaeoecologists to study historical vegetation changes and with human geographers to improve understanding of socio-ecological systems. The student must be numerically competent and have a desire to work with large datasets and under challenging field conditions. This PhD provides the opportunity to work in a world-class research team on a genuinely novel research question and also ample opportunity to develop your own research interests. The results will have significant impacts in predicting tropical forest resilience, understanding long-term fire effects, redirecting conservation efforts, evaluating ecosystem services, and affecting policy such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+).

Funding Notes

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2020 entry. For eligible students, the studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,009 per annum for 2019-20.

References

References / Background reading list

Armenteras, D., E. Cabrera, N. Rodríguez, and J. Retana. 2013. National and regional determinants of tropical deforestation in Colombia. Regional Environmental Change 13:1181-1193.

Baptiste, B., M. Pinedo-Vasquez, V.H. Gutierrez-Velez, G.I. Andrade, P. Vieira, L.M. Estupinan-Suarez, M.C. Londono, W. Laurance, and T.M. Lee. 2017. Greening peace in Colombia. Nat Ecol Evol 1:102.

González-Carranza, Z., H. Hooghiemstra, and M.I. Vélez. 2012. Major altitudinal shifts in Andean vegetation on the Amazonian flank show temporary loss of biota in the Holocene. The Holocene 22:1227-1241.

Hooghiemstra, H. 1984. Vegetational and climatic history of the high plain of Bogota, Colombia: a continuous record of the last 3.5 million years. Dissertationes Botanicae 79.

Navarrete, D., S. Sitch, L.E. Aragão, and L. Pedroni. 2016. Conversion from forests to pastures in the Colombian Amazon leads to contrasting soil carbon dynamics depending on land management practices. Global Change Biology 22:3503-3517.

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