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Interactions between introduced tree species and native mycorrhizal fungi in the UK

   School of Biological Sciences

   Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Reading United Kingdom Ecology Microbiology Plant Biology

About the Project

Mycorrhizal symbioses are one of the most extensive and important biotic interactions in terrestrial ecosystems, typically providing plants with improved access to nutrients in exchange for carbohydrates produced via photosynthesis. This project will focus on the impact of introduced commercial tree species on native communities of symbiotic ectomycorrhizal fungi, which are implicated in positive plant-soil feedbacks and enhancing plant migrations in response to past episodes of climate change. By moving organisms into novel geographic areas, human activity has generated ‘no-analogue’ associations between plants and fungi (i.e. combinations of species that have not previously existed). Using a combination of lab, field, and statistical approaches, this project will examine the identity, diversity, and function of symbiotic interactions between introduced North American tree species and native European fungi. The project will be based in the UK, but there may be opportunities for fieldwork in exotic plantations elsewhere in Europe, or in native forests in western Canada.  

The supervisor is a Lecturer in Ecology in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Reading. He has experience in applying experimental and modelling approaches in terrestrial ecology, and is particularly interested in both natural dispersal and assisted migration of tree species. 

School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading:

The University of Reading, located west of London, England, provides world-class research education programs. The University’s main Whiteknights Campus is set in 130 hectares of beautiful parkland, a 30-minute train ride to central London and 40 minutes from London Heathrow airport.

Our School of Biological Sciences conducts high-impact research, tackling current global challenges faced by society and the planet. Our research ranges from understanding and improving human health and combating disease, through to understanding evolutionary processes and uncovering new ways to protect the natural world. In 2020, we moved into a stunning new ~£60 million Health & Life Sciences building. This state-of-the-art facility is purpose-built for science research and teaching. It houses the Cole Museum of Zoology, a café and social spaces.

In the School of Biological Sciences, you will be joining a vibrant community of ~180 PhD students representing ~40 nationalities. Our students publish in high-impact journals, present at international conferences, and organise a range of exciting outreach and public engagement activities. During your PhD at the University of Reading, you will expand your research knowledge and skills, receiving supervision in one-to-one and small group sessions. You will have access to cutting-edge technology and learn the latest research techniques. We also provide dedicated training in important transferable skills that will support your career aspirations. If English is not your first language, the University's excellent International Study and Language Institute will help you develop your academic English skills. The University of Reading is a welcoming community for people of all faiths and cultures. We are committed to a healthy work-life balance and will work to ensure that you are supported personally and academically.


Applicants should have a good degree (minimum of a UK Upper Second (2:1) undergraduate degree or equivalent) in Biological Sciences or a strongly-related discipline. Applicants will also need to meet the University’s English Language requirements. We offer pre-sessional courses that can help with meeting these requirements.

How to apply: Submit an application for a PhD in Biological Sciences at

Further information:


"Pither J, Pickles BJ, Simard SW, Ordonez A, Williams JW. (2018). Below-ground biotic interactions moderated the postglacial
range dynamics of trees. New Phytologist 220: 1148-1160.
Pickles BJ, Twieg BD, O'Neill GA, Mohn WW, & Simard SW. (2015). Local adaptation in migrated interior Douglas‐fir seedlings is mediated by ectomycorrhizas and other soil factors. New Phytologist 207: 858-871."

Please view Dr Brian Pickles' academic profile:

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