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Memory in vegetation response to environmental fluctuations (Advert Reference: RDF22-R/EE/GES/LIU)

   Faculty of Engineering and Environment

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  Dr Yao Liu  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Plants live in and respond to fluctuating environments around them. Importantly, many plant responses are not only driven by current environmental conditions, but show “memory” to conditions in the past. In some cases, this “memory” may reflect how plants adapt to short-term stressors (e.g., excessive light, heat, acute drought) to maintain function and avoid damage. For examples, nonphotochemical quenching often sustains after light exposure and the release from photoprotection is lagged, and plants experienced moderate water stress often operate with wider safety margins at the cost of productivity. There is an increasing need to quantify, model, and predict these memory effects in different vegetation types and in relation to environmental fluctuation patterns. Furthermore, as the statistics of the short-term stressors (frequency, duration, magnitude, and regularity) change under climate change, it is increasingly important to understand memory in vegetation responses to novel fluctuation patterns. Progress made in addressing these research needs will improve our ability to predict and manage for the health and resilience of the biosphere, a critical component of the global carbon cycle, in the face of changing climate and weather patterns.

Your PhD will focus on memory effects in plant photosynthesis or water use. You will be provided with existing datasets to quickly start your project. Meanwhile, you will be supported to develop additional inquiries of your choice, using one or a combination of the following approaches–laboratory experiments, vegetation modelling, Bayesian data analysis, and information theory–and in collaboration with scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US, National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology in France, University of Newcastle, and the University of Sheffield. Your home department, Geography and Environmental Sciences at Northumbria University is ideal for conducting multidisciplinary research. Here you will have the opportunity to interact with faculty and students working on a wide range of research topics aiming to better understand and manage our living planet in the Anthropocene.

Prerequisites: Strong commitment to multidisciplinary research and collaboration. BSc or MSc in Ecology, Botany, Environmental Science, or allied discipline. Candidates with background in mathematical/statistical/computational sciences and a strong interest in plant and ecosystem ecology are also encouraged to apply.

The Principal Supervisor for this project is Dr Yao Liu.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere or if they have previously been awarded a PhD.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see


Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF22-R/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 20 June 2022

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff and students. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Funding Notes:

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2022/23 full-time study this is £16,602 per year) and full tuition fees. Only UK candidates may apply.

Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,961 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.

Please note: to be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:

• Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or

• have settled status, or

• have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or

• have indefinite leave to remain or enter.


Liu, Y., Schwalm, C.R., Samuels‐Crow, K.E. and Ogle, K. (2019) Ecological memory of daily carbon exchange across the globe and its importance in drylands. Ecology Letters, 22(11), pp.1806-1816.
Peltier, D.M., Guo, J., Nguyen, P., Bangs, M., Wilson, M., Samuels-Crow, K., Yocom, L.L., Liu, Y., Fell, M.K., Shaw, J.D. and Auty, D. (2021) Temperature memory and non-structural carbohydrates mediate legacies of a hot drought in trees across the southwestern USA. Tree Physiology. doi: https://doi. org/10.1093/treephys/tpab091.
Gu, L., Han, J., Wood, J.D., Chang, C.Y.Y. and Sun, Y., 2019. Sun‐induced Chl fluorescence and its importance for biophysical modeling of photosynthesis based on light reactions. New Phytologist, 223(3), pp.1179-1191.
Brodu, N. and Crutchfield, J.P., 2020. Discovering Causal Structure with Reproducing-Kernel Hilbert Space epsilon-Machines. arXiv preprint arXiv:2011.14821.
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