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Fully-funded ACCE Biology project: The ecological and functional consequences of fire in heathlands.

   Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment (ACCE)

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  Dr E Wandrag  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Lead supervisor: Dr Lizzie Wandrag (University of York Department of Biology)

Co-supervisors: Dr Robert Mills (University of York Department of Environment and Geography)

The student will be registered with the Department of Biology


Global fire regimes are changing, becoming more frequent and more severe. These changes irrevocably alter plant and soil communities, potentially affecting important interactions between plants and symbiotic soil mutualists. Changing plant-soil mutualisms influence crucial ecosystem functions such as nutrient cycling, soil carbon storage and plant growth, as well as above- and below-ground biodiversity. However, the effects of changing fire regimes on plant-soil interactions remains a significant research gap.


The project will undertake a comparative study of fire-plant-soil interactions in heathlands globally. In these systems, several major shrub taxa form specialised symbioses with mycorrhizal fungi in the soil, but the effects of fire on these interactions are poorly understood. This project will seek to identify:

1) how fire affects plant-mycorrhizal symbioses; 2) the ecological and/or functional consequences of these effects; and 3) whether and how effects vary with local context.

Possible approaches include field and glasshouse experiments, laboratory techniques and statistical modelling, depending on student interests. There is scope for the student to develop the project in line with their own research interests, and it would suit those with an interest in plant community ecology, microbial ecology, or nutrient cycling. There will be opportunities to collaborate with research groups in Europe and/or Australia.

Novelty & Timeliness

The increasing frequency of fires globally suggests an urgent need to understand the impacts of fires on ecosystems. However, it is only relatively recently that the crucial role of plant-soil interactions for ecosystem processes and biodiversity has been recognised and we know very little about the effects of fires on plant-soil interactions. Increased understanding of the soil ecosystem sets the stage for addressing this important research gap.

The ACCE DTP is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or career pathway to date. We understand that commitment and excellence can be shown in many ways and have built our recruitment process to reflect this. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds, particularly those underrepresented in science, who have curiosity, creativity and a drive to learn new skills.

Please complete and upload this proforma in support of your application.

Entry Requirements: Students with, or expecting to gain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply. The interdisciplinary nature of this programme means that we welcome applications from students with backgrounds in any biological, chemical, and/or physical science, or students with mathematical backgrounds who are interested in using their skills in addressing biological, ecological or evolutionary questions. 

Programme: PhD in ACCE (4 years)

Start Date: 1st October 2023 (the student will be registered with the Department of Biology)

Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed in the w/c 20 February 2023

Funding Notes

This project is part of the NERC ACCE Doctoral Training Partnership. Appointed candidates will be fully-funded for 3.5 years. The funding includes:
Tax-free annual UKRI stipend (£17,668 for 2022/23 academic year)
UK tuition fees
Research support and training charges
International students will need to have sufficient funds to cover the costs of their student visa, NHS health surcharge, travel insurance and transport to the UK as these are excluded from UKRI funding.
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