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Multispectral drone imaging to monitor biodiversity response to disease (REF: RDF22/HLS/APP/NICHOLSON)

   Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

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  Dr Kate Nicholson, Prof J Dean  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Remote multi-spectral imaging techniques using visible and near infra-red sensors allow for a wide range of applications to the agricultural and ecological problems of the Anthropocene. From harmful algal blooms often seen in the Lake District in the summer months through to precision crop management through rapid monitoring and treatment, an aerial view of the issue at hand can be compared to data collected on the ground to establish a deeper understanding of the processes occurring.

This project will develop (a) remote spectral sensing techniques for assessment and quantification of plant disease (blight) under different management systems (organic and conventional farming methods), (b) understanding of the interactions between different weeding scenarios under these systems and how that leads to the proliferation of potato blight, and c) discover Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM) practices for control of this disease using different potato varietal and weed datasets.

Training value: The student will develop knowledge and experience in the areas of pathology, remote sensing, plant physiology and ecology. The student will also learn the current agricultural practises that are used in the UK. Training in image analysis, GIS (geographic information system mapping), spectral data collection, disease assessments, physiological methods, molecular tools and statistical analysis.

Key Research Gaps and Questions:

1. What environmental and management factors contribute to disease proliferation in potatoes?

2. How does weed diversity affect suppression?

3. How can remote sensing be used to monitor the spread of disease in different farming systems of potatoes?

4. What strategies can be implemented to eradicate potato blight and control its future spread?

The potato (Solanum tubersoum) is part of the staple diet for many people, but which can suffer from various diseases (including potato blight caused by Phytophthora infestans) which disrupts existing plant communities and biodiversity. P. infestans continues to pose a formidable threat to global potato production and costs the world's growers more than $3 billion each year in fungicides and other control measures. Weeds have been regarded as a promoter for blight and also known to alter physiology by means of nutrient, water and light interactions. Advancements in remote sensing allow us to monitor variations and phenotype responses at different spatial, spectral, and temporal levels. Informed by field data and basic ecological principles, sensing approaches can substantially advance knowledge not just for monitoring, but also for managing potato blight (including anthropogenic and natural stressors effect).

Newcastle University (Nafferton Farm) will provide access to both organic and conventional growing sites for validation of monitoring techniques and testing hypotheses about links between environment, management, and potato type communities. Our partner at Newcastle University, Dr Ankush Prashar, is an expert in agriculture (with an interest in modern potato farming methods).

Prerequisites: Essential: Background in chemistry/biochemistry, engineering, or computer science with interest in applications in remote sensing, pathology / agriculture / plant science. Desirable: Programming skills. Working knowledge of spectral and image analysis.

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: All applications must include a covering letter (up to 1000 words maximum) including why you are interested in this PhD, a summary of the relevant experience you can bring to this project and of your understanding of this subject area with relevant references (beyond the information already provided in the advert). Applications that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF22/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 18 February 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.

Informal enquiries to Dr Kate Nicholson ([Email Address Removed]).

Funding Notes

Each studentship supports a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2021/22 full-time study this is £15,609 per year) and full tuition fees. UK and international (including EU) candidates may apply.
Studentships are available for applicants who wish to study on a part-time basis over 5 years (0.6 FTE, stipend £9,365 per year and full tuition fees) in combination with work or personal responsibilities.
Please also read the full funding notes ( which include advice for international and part-time applicants.


Ahmed, S., Nicholson, C. E., Muto, P., Perry, J. J., & Dean, J. R. (2021). Applied aerial spectroscopy: A case study on remote sensing of an ancient and semi-natural woodland
PONE-D-21-23810R1 Paper Accepted
Ahmed, S., Nicholson, C. E., Muto, P., Perry, J. J., & Dean, J. R. (2021). The Use of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for Tree Phenotyping Studies. Separations, 8(9), 1-15. [160].
Beeby, A., Gameson, R., & Nicholson, C. (2018). New light on old illuminations. Archives and Records, 39(2), 244-256.
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