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Fusion Forest : securing disease resilience through pattern variability

Project Description

Trees have proficient tools that allow them to survive biological threats. However, we have seen recent outbreaks of tree diseases that we were not prepared for. Pathogen evolution, disease movement and climate change drive disease emergence. Their rapid occurrence and the slow growth by trees puts us, and our woodlands, in a vulnerable scenario that requires careful thinking for the designing of future forests.

Monoculture plantations with regular spatial arrangements are particularly susceptible to rapid disease propagation. Moreover, same species suffer consequences of climate change in a similar way, with the potential to compromise the entire plantation. Planting of different species together and/or following complex patterns could provide effective natural barriers to prevent the speed of airborne and waterborne diseases. This project will produce, validate and calibrate models to assess the design of natural physical barriers to invasive diseases. In addition, climate change conditions (including temperature, water availability and CO2 concentrations) affecting pathogen virulence and tree growth will be taken incorporated in the project. These factors will be also able to predict the impact of climate change in the growth and development of tree species and their neighbors. These models will consequently aid forest planners when considering resilience against diseases in a context of a changing climate.

This transdisciplinary project provides a holistic research strategy for the understanding of forest resilience to invasive diseases in the context of climate change. The integration of numerical modelling with lab and field experiments offers a prodigious knowledge interphase for the designing of the forests of the future.

The supervisors welcome applications from excellent students with an Engineering background (particularly Environmental but also Civil, Mechanical, or Chemical). Candidates with backgrounds in Mathematics, Physics, or Biosciences are also welcome to apply. Basic coding skills (e.g. FORTRAN, C++) are required, and knowledge of laboratory techniques is desirable but not essential. Students must have a minimum of a good (>65%) upper second-class or higher UK degree (or an equivalent EU qualification) in one of these or a closely related subject. Successful applicants will be creative and motivated to carry out interdisciplinary research, with an aptitude for either numerical modelling or laboratory work and a desire to undertake both.

Funding Notes

This project is part of the Global Challenges Scholarship.
The award comprises:

Full payment of tuition fees at UK Research Councils UK/EU fee level (£4,327 in 2019/20), to be paid by the University;
An annual tax-free doctoral stipend at UK Research Councils UK/EU rates (£15,009 for 2019/20), to be paid in monthly instalments to the Global Challenges scholar by the University;
The tenure of the award can be for up to 3.5 years (42 months).

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