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Forest diversity, dynamics and resilience in a changing world


   School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr Adriane Esquivel-Muelbert , Dr Laura Graham, Dr Tom Matthews  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Project Highlights:

·     Help unpick the fundamental relationships between diversity and dynamics in the world’s forests.

·     Work with a world-leading team in forest dynamics and biogeography.

·     Opportunity to gain fieldwork experience in the tropics and state-of-the-art data analysis skills

Overview:

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.

Methodology:

You will use state-of-the-art statistical techniques and ecological theory to analyse a large dataset on forest dynamics to test at a global scale: (1) the effects of forest dynamics (i.e. rates of stem loss, biomass loss and biomass productivity) on diversity; (2) whether the range of species’ life-history strategies within the forests influences its diversity; (3) the effect of diversity and dynamics on forest resilience. This will include exploring different diversity metrics and incorporating large-scale environmental and landscape datasets to test for the influence of the environment mediating these relationships. You will be managing and analysing large data sources using the R programming language.

Training and skills:

You will be trained in state-of-the-art statistical techniques to analyse one of the largest ecological datasets to date. This will provide you with strong analytical and programming skills, as well as a solid basis in ecological theory. This project will also include the possibility of participating in a field expedition in the tropics, allowing you to learn fieldwork techniques and to have a greater understanding of the system studied (Fig 1 a). You will be part of the fast growing Birmingham Biogeography and Ecology team, the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) and the ForestPlots network.

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