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Live fast, mast or try to last: how do plant life-history trade-offs affect forest responses to climate change?

School of Environmental Sciences

About the Project

Background: Forests are being lost at an alarming rate, despite being one of the most important solutions in mitigating climate change. Their recovery is dependent on reproduction, but there is huge variation in reproductive strategies and constraints across species. Plants have evolved numerous strategies to maximise their reproductive success, but investment in reproduction is always associated with costs elsewhere – for instance, increased investment in reproduction reduces the resources available for growth or defence.

Understanding these life-history trade-offs is paramount to predicting the recovery and persistence of tree species in a changing climate. Objectives: The student will use large existing datasets and new field measurements to quantify how reproductive strategies vary
between and within species.
1) Are life-history trade-offs different between species and regions?
2) Are the costs of reproduction higher when trees are growing under greater climate stress?
3) Are reproduction-related trade-offs shifting under climate change?
4) Are life-history trade-offs a constraint on adaptation and recovery of forests?

Novelty and timeliness: Forests are changing, but to date, observational and modelling studies have focused on mortality and growth, and generally neglected reproduction. While the former shape the immediately visible response of forests to climate change, the long-term response will be determined by the identity and success of the trees that follow. The project will combine the exceptional plant trait databases now available, including MASTREE+ (, with new field measurements extending >40 years of reproductive monitoring data from a network of UK beech trees, to characterize tree reproduction across time and space and compare strategies among >700 plant species worldwide. This will facilitate a better understanding of variation among individuals,
populations and species, and how this may shape forest responses to climate change globally and in the UK. Potential applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the lead supervisor before submitting an application.

Notes and how to apply are available here:
Apply at:

For any enquiries please contact the SoES PGR enquiries/ACCE DTP team on

Funding Notes

NERC ACCE DTP in Ecology and Evolution, programme starts October 2021.
UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:
• Stipend (2020/21 UKRI rate £15,285)
• Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2020/21 rate £4,407)
• Research support and training grant (RTSG)
A limited number of international fee bursaries will be awarded on a competitive basis. However, if selected International and EU fee rate candidates may need to cover the remaining amount of tuition fees by securing additional funding. International fees for 2021/22 entry are not yet fixed, but as a guide fees for 2020/21 entry were £23,650 per annum.

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