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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. Planting of different species together in irregular 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. These models will consequently aid forest planners when considering resilience against diseases. The project will have the following stages (Figure 1):
1) Data gathering and parameter description: data related to the physical distribution and canopy diameter of trees in the Norbury Park Estate and in the FACE experiment, together with information on the characteristics and spreading abilities of the pathogen of interest, oak powdery mildew, will be obtained. Measurements on the impact of elevated CO2 in the virulence of powdery mildew will also be incorporated.
2) Modelling: the data obtained in the previous stage will be incorporated into a large-eddy simulation (LES) model to study in depth the spread of wind-driven powdery mildew (PM). This model will be able to solve the relevant turbulent scales of the flow aerodynamics in an Eulerian grid. The transport of both continuous (e.g. CO2) and discrete (e.g. spores) substances will be simulated, using Lagrangian particles to represent the latter.
3) Experimental validation: natural disease assessment will be performed in Norbury Park and in the FACE experiment. Artificial experiments will be performed under greenhouse and windtunnel conditions. Results in the infection patterns will be compared with the model for validation.
4) Transferible results: models will be tested and adjusted against diseases of very different nature. For instance, the plot at Norbury park will be used to model the distribution of the another devastating pathogen, ash dieback disease.

Funding Notes

Full payment of tuition fees at Research Councils UK fee level for year of entry (£4,327 in 2019/20), to be paid by the University;
An annual maintenance grant at current UK Research Councils rates (national minimum doctoral stipend for 2019/20 is £15,009), to be paid in monthly instalments to the Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholar by the University.
All studentships will come with a minimum of £3,000 Research Training Support Grant. This can be increased, if there are justified project costs, up to a maximum of £12,000.
Funding is available for UK or EU students only.

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