Forest diversity, dynamics and resilience in a changing world

   NERC Doctoral Training Centre Studentships with CENTA

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  Dr Adriane Esquivel-Muelbert , Dr T Pugh, Dr Laura Graham, Dr Tom Matthews  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Species diversity varies greatly across the world’s ecosystems. One hectare of forest can have as few as one, or, in some tropical forests, as many as 300 tree species (Fig 1 b). Explaining the global diversity patterns is one of the greatest challenges of ecology - this is particularly pressing as global change and increasing disturbance events (Fig 1 c) are causing rapid losses in diversity. Forest diversity is hypothesised to determine how resilient these forests will be to changing environmental conditions, but the links between diversity and forest resilience are yet to be tested.

There is strong evidence that the velocity of life and death in forests are accelerating across the world, with increases in tree mortality and tree growth (forest dynamics). At the same time, the species composition of tree communities has been changing, favouring faster growing trees. This project will leverage big data on tree communities and ecological theory to develop a new understanding of how the dynamics of life and death, alongside species’ life history strategies, affect species diversity and forest resilience, at a global scale. This PhD project aims to investigate (1) the role of forest dynamics (i.e. growth, recruitment and mortality rates of trees) in determining species diversity; (2) how the life-history strategies of the species within a forest influence its diversity; (3) how diversity, forest dynamics and species composition influence forest resilience – i.e. the ability for a community to ‘bounce back’ after disturbance. By helping to answer such a fundamental question in Ecology, this project contributes to our understanding of the future trajectories of biodiversity.

How to apply

Applications need to be submitted via the University of Birmingham postgraduate portal by midnight on 11.01.2021. Please first check whether the primary supervisor is within Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, or in Biosciences, and click on the corresponding PhD program on the application page.

This application should include

• a brief cover letter, CV, and the contact details for at least two referees

• a CENTA application form

• the supervisor and title of the project you are applying for under the Research Information section of the application form.

Referee’s will be invited to submit their references once you submit your application, but we strongly encourage applicants to ensure referees are aware of your submission and expecting a reference request from us. Students are also encouraged to visit and explore the additional information available on the CENTA website.

Biological Sciences (4) Environmental Sciences (13)


Baker, T. R., Pennington, R. T., Magallon, S., et al. 2014. Fast demographic traits promote high diversification rates of Amazonian trees. Ecology Letters, 17, 527-536.
Coelho De Souza, F., Dexter, K. G., Phillips, O. L., et al. 2019. Evolutionary diversity is associated with wood productivity in Amazonian forests. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 3, 1754-1761.
Condit, R., Ashton, P., Bunyavejchewin, S., et al. 2006. The importance of demographic niches to tree diversity. Science, 313, 98.
Esquivel-Muelbert, A., Baker, T. R., Dexter, K. G., et al. 2019. Compositional response of Amazon forests to climate change. Global Change Biology, 25, 39-56.
Keil, P. & Chase, J. M. 2019. Global patterns and drivers of tree diversity integrated across a continuum of spatial grains. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 3, 390-399.
Sullivan, M. J. P., Talbot, J., Lewis, S. L., Et al. 2017. Diversity and carbon storage across the tropical forest biome. Scientific Reports, 7, 39102.
Willis, K. J., Jeffers, E. S. & Tovar, C. 2018. What makes a terrestrial ecosystem resilient? Science, 359, 988-989.

Where will I study?

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 About the Project