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Microbes versus management: unravelling the roles of ericoid mycorrhiza, moor-burning and mowing for the climate regulation and water quality ecosystem services of blanket bogs.

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  • Full or part time
    Dr A Heinemeyer
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Natural ecosystems are increasingly recognized for delivering vital ecosystem services (ESs) globally such as drinking water quality, and climate regulation through carbon storage and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (CO2, CH4 and N2O). In the UK, uplands, particularly slow growing blanket bogs, are a crucial component to these ESs, but increasing management and climate pressures adversely affect the functioning of these ecosystems which underpins the ESs. Currently, a Defra-funded study ( evaluates mowing (aimed at supporting intact and less heather dominated vegetation) as an alternative to burning management (used to encourage heather growth on grouse moors) at three sites in Northern England. This ACCE project will use the unique fully replicated paired sub-catchment experimental Defra study to further investigate the impact above-ground management has on blanket bog ES provisioning via effects on below-ground processes that underpin the delivery of key ES. A particular focus will be in establishing the role of symbiotic fungi of heather (mycorrhizas) and free-living microorganisms, on carbon storage, water colour (DOC), and GHG fluxes, in relation to above-ground management. The student will be working alongside the Defra project with unique background data and state-of-the-art equipment access.
This project will gain novel insights by establishing the mechanistic basis of bog management on delivery of key ESs via impacts on crucial soil biota. Specifically, the role of ericoid mycorrhizas, a symbiosis between plant roots (i.e. heather) and certain (ericoid) soil fungi, is so far largely unknown. Crucially, this symbiosis (and the special enzymatic capabilities) might explain likely vulnerability of assumed inert peat carbon to climate change and impacts on ESs, particularly water quality. The student will combine state-of-the art molecular microbiology methods with latest high resolution analyser techniques for carbon and GHG flux measurements and water quality analyses. She/he will combine in situ measurements (field work) with laboratory manipulation studies and explore the use of stable isotope tracers (13C) and radiocarbon (14C) of DOC and soil C to detect ‘priming’ (enhanced turnover) of older and assumed inert soil carbon.
The project will address the following objectives:
1) Provide a literature review on soil biota in relation to peatland ESs.
2) Assess soil biota community changes under different management.
3) Identify key functional groups of soil biota in ESs provisioning.
4) Determine the role of ericoid mycorrhizas in peatland carbon cycling.
This PhD will be CASE supervised by Dr Michael Morecroft Natural England (NE) with additional support from the water industry (Yorkshire Water) with main supervisors Dr Andreas Heinemeyer (York ), Professor Jonathan Leake (Sheffield ) and Dr Thorunn Helgasson (York )

This PhD project is part of the NERC funded Doctoral Training Partnership “ACCE” (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment). This is a partnership between the Universities of York, Sheffield and Liverpool, and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Selection process: Shortlisting will take place as soon as possible after the closing date and successful applicants will be notified promptly. Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview to take place at the University of York on w/c 9th February 2015. Video interviews can be arranged for international applicants.

Interested candidates are strongly encouraged to contact the main supervisor and discuss the project prior to applying.

Funding Notes

Fully funded for a minimum of 3.5 years, studentships cover: (i) a tax-free stipend at the standard Research Council rate (estimated to be £14,002 per annum for 2015-2016), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees at the UK/EU rate. Studentships are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements. Students from EU countries who do not meet residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award.

Requirements: At least a 2:1 honours degree, or equivalent. There are language requirements for international students.

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