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MRes Studentship: The effect of natural flood management (NFM) wood structures on aquatic macroinvertebrate and terrestrial plant diversity

   Department of Biological Sciences

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  Dr Tory Milner  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The project is in association with Slow the Flow ( and the National Trust ( who have jointly installed 100+ NFM wood structures in the Hebden Water and Crimsworth Dean Beck catchments in West Yorkshire. The supervisory team hope to acquire further funding to extend the MRes into a PhD project if the successful student wishes to study further, but this is dependent of a successful application. However, there is no obligation by the successful candidate to study for a PhD. 

Research context

Natural flood management (NFM) wood structures are often used to reduce the rate of water flowing from headwaters to lowland systems (Dadson et al., 2017; Lane, 2017). Wood acts as a ‘leaky barrier’ by retaining water upstream of the structure and ‘slowing the flow’ downstream (Grabowski et al., 2019). NFM wood structures comprise a wide range of different designs and permeabilities (Wen Lo et al., 2021), and the type of design can include structures fully or partly spaning the channel with differing degrees of contact with base flows and the stream bed (Wen Lo et al., 2021).

Installation of NFM wood structures can have strong effects on local geomorphic, ecological and biogeochemical procceses (e.g. Gurnell et al., 1998, Pilotto et al., 2014; Short et al., 2019). The formation of pools (ranging from plunge, underflow or deflector pools), sediment storage, and changes in bank morphology are common geomorphic effects of NFM wood structures. These geomorphic effects drive changes in hydraulics, which partly diversifies local habitat heterogeneity (Corenblit et al., 2007).

The introduction of in-stream wood can also cause ecological benefits for aquatic macroinvertebrates, fish, amphibians, and riparian vegetation. Submerged wood surfaces often contain a high diversity of aquatic macroinvertebrates (Benke and Wallace, 2003). Wood structures provide a food source for xylophagous species who ingest wood fragments as part of their diet (Steedman & Anderson, 1985; Collier and Halliday, 2000). Community composition on wood surfaces are often different from invertebrates inhabitating nearby inorganic substrates (Shields et al., 2008; Dossi et al., 2018). NFM wood structures that fully span a channel can also alter water table levels in the river banks and in the riparian zone as soils become more saturated with water (Gurnell et al., 1995). The increase in water table levels may cause riparian plant communities to be dominated by water-tolerant species (Wen Lo et al., 2021).

Aims and Objectives

The main effects of NFM wood structures in decreasing downstream flood risk and altering local geomorphology are well known. However, less research has examined the ecological effects of NFM wood structures. The aim of this MRes project is to examine the ecological effects of NFM wood structures on aquatic macroinvertebrates and terrestrial plant diversity in the riparian zone. The following objectives are:

1.    Identify a) aquatic macroinvertebrate diversity and community composition, b) the hydraulic and sedimentary of different meso-habitats, and c) terrestrial vegetation diversity in the riparian zone in 3 headwater streams in Hebden Water and Crimsworth Dean Beck catchments prior to and after installation of NFM wood structures*.

2.    Characterise the longer term ecological effects of NFM wood structures by examining aquatic macroinvertebrate diversity between newly created and established NFM wood structures.

Details of the studentship

During the period of your studentship, you will receive the following:

§ A tax-free bursary of £15,560 for a period of 1 year.

§ A fee-waiver for 1 year (worth £4650).

§ £7000 to cover costs and expenses related to your research, including equipment, travel, and conference attendance costs.

§ Use of the Research Student Study Space in School of Applied Sciences Research School.


You will be expected to play an active role in the life of both the Research School and of the School of Applied Science by assisting with some field and laboratory practicals. You will also be given opportunities to gain experience in learning and teaching within the School of Applied Sciences under the guidance of your Director of Studies.

Qualifications needed


Applicants should have or be able to evidence:

-       A First or Upper Second (2.1) Honours Degree, or expect to receive one by January 2022 in Geography, Physical Geography, Environmental Science, Environmental Management, Ecology, or a related discipline.

-       A sound understanding of, and an interest in freshwater ecology, river science, freshwater ecosystems, and/or hydrology as reflected by the choice of modules at university and/or your current position.

-       A driving licence, a willingness to travel to sites and an enjoyment of fieldwork in variable weather conditions.

-       Proficiency in oral and written English.

-       Ability to work independently and contribute to a team.

-       Commitment and an enthusiastic approach to completing a higher research degree.



-       Experience of collecting and identifying macroinvertebrates to family level.

-       Experience of surveying terrestrial vegetation.

-       Experience of using statistical techniques to analyse hydrological and ecological data.

Please note we are not expecting candidates to have had experience sampling both aquatic macroinvertebrates and terrestrial vegetation. Training and assistance will be provided to the successful candidate. There is flexibility in the project for the successful candidate to suggest and carry out their own interests.

The Interview

The interview will provisionally be held the w/c the 25th of April 2022. All successful applicants will be interviewed. You will be asked to read a research paper that Dr Milner has supplied in advance, and answer questions on the topic, methodology, and findings of the research paper. You will also be asked to provide an example of your written work (e.g., a dissertation) ahead of the interview.

For further information or an informal discussion on this project, please contact Dr Tory Milner (Director of Studies) via email at [Email Address Removed]

To apply for the position, please see Completed application forms should be submitted by midnight on Thursday 31st March 2022. Shortlisted candidates will be asked to attend an interview the w/c 25th April 2022.

Funding Notes

During the period of your studentship, you will receive the following:
 A tax-free bursary of £15,560 for a period of 1 year.
 A fee-waiver for 1 year (worth £4650).
 £7000 to cover costs and expenses related to your research, including equipment, travel, and conference attendance costs.
 Use of the Research Student Study Space in School of Applied Sciences Research School.


Al-Zankana A., Matheson T. & Harper D. (2020) Adding large woody material into a headwater stream has immediate benefits for macroinvertebrate community structure and function. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 31: 930-947.
Benke A. C. & Wallace J. B. (2003) Influence of wood on invertebrate communities in streams and rivers. American Fisheries Society Symposium, 37: 149–177.
Collier K. J., & Halliday J. N. (2000). Macroinvertebrate-wood associations during decay of plantation pine in New Zealand pumice-bed streams: Stable habitat or trophic subsidy? Journal of the North American Benthological Society, 19 (1): 94–111.
Dadson S. J., Hall J. W., Murgatroyd A., Acreman M., Bates P., Beven K., Heathwaite L., Holden J., Holman I. P., Lane S. N., O'Connell E., Penning-Rowsell E., Reynard N., Sear D., Thorne C., & Wilby R. (2017) A restatement of the natural science evidence concerning catchment-based 'natural' flood management in the UK. Proceedings of the Royal Society A, 473, 20160706.
Dossi F., Leitner P., Pauls S. & Graf W. (2018) In the mood for wood-habitat specific colonization patterns of benthic invertebrate communities along the longitudinal gradient of an Austrian river. Hydrobiologia, 805: 245–258.
Enefalk A. & Bergman E. (2016) Effects of fine wood on macroinvertebrate drift in four boreal forest streams. Hydrobiologia, 765: 317-327.
Grabowski R. C., Gurnell A. M., Burgess-Gamble L., England J., Holland D., Klaar M. J., Morrissey I., Uttley C. & Wharton G. (2019) The current state of the use of large wood in river restoration and management. Water and Environment Journal, 33 (3): 366–377.
Gurnell A. M., Gregory K. J. & Petts G. E. (1995) The role of coarse woody debris in forest aquatic habitats: Implications for management. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 5: 143–166.
Gurnell A. M. & Sweet R. (1998) The distribution of large woody debris accumulations and pools in relation to woodland stream management in a small, low-gradient stream. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 23, 1101–1121.6.
Lane S. N. (2017) Natural flood management. WIREs Water, 4, e1211.
Pilotto F., Bertoncin A., Harvey G. L., Wharton G. & Pusch M. T. (2014) Diversification of stream invertebrate communities by large wood. Freshwater Biology, 59: 2571–2583.
Pinto C., Ing R., Browning B., Delboni V., Wilson H., Martyn D. & Harvey G. L. (2019) Water and Environment Journal, 33: 353-365.
Shields F. D., Pezeshki S. R., Wilson G. V., Wu W. & Dabney S. M. (2008) Rehabilitation of an incised stream using plant materials: The dominance of geomorphic processes. Ecology and Society, 13(2): 54.
Short C., Clarke L., Carnelli F., Uttley C., & Smith B. (2019) Capturing the multiple benefits associated with nature-based solutions: lessons from a natural flood management project in the cotswolds, UK. Land Degradation & Development, 30 (5): 241–252.
Steedman R. J. & Anderson N. H. (1985) Life history and ecological role of the Xylophagous aquatic beetle, Lara avara LeConte (Dryopoidea: Elmidae). Freshwater Biology, 15: 535–546.
Wen Lo H., Smith M., Klaar M. & Woulds C. (2021) Potential secondary effects of in-stream wood structures installed for natural flood management: A conceptual model. WIREs Water. DOI: 10.1002/wat2.1546.
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