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  NERC Red-ALERT CDT: A change in the water?: Using multidisciplinary approaches to leverage understanding of freshwater invertebrate responses to multiple environmental stressors

   Cardiff School of Biosciences

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  Dr Tom Bishop, Dr Fredric Windsor, Dr E Lahive  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Project description

3.5 year full time PhD

Natural Environment Research Council funded RED ALERT Centre for Doctoral Training (NERC Centre for Doctoral Training in Real-Time Digital Water-Based Systems (RED-ALERT CDT) ( will provide training in water-based early warning systems for environmental and public health protection focused around 4 UK and 3 international Living Labs aimed to provide the in-depth knowledge and enable a step-change in managing environmental and public health.

Organisms can respond in three ways to our rapidly changing world: move, adapt, or die. These responses are driven by a delicate, eco-physiological balance of multiple stressors, including thermal stress and pollutant risk. Typically, stressors are studied in isolation and we have little idea how they interact to impact individual organisms and further provision of ecosystem services. Developing our understanding of these interactions will allow us to better predict and mitigate impacts on biodiversity in the future.

This project will investigate how multiple stressors impact the performance and ecosystem service provisioning of freshwater invertebrates in South Wales. Invertebrate communities underpin productivity in river ecosystems, converting primary to secondary production, thus facilitating the flux of energy through aquatic and terrestrial food webs. However, these invertebrate communities are vulnerable to multiple ecological stressors. Rivers in South Wales offer an ideal case study to investigate interacting stressor effects. Combined global heating and local effects on habitat structure mean that temperatures are rising. These rivers have a legacy of industrial heavy metal pollution as well as contemporary chemical inputs such as plastics and pharmaceuticals. Crucially, these rivers have near real-time data on these variables that can be integrated to assess wider ecological changes.

The project has three goals. 1) To establish interacting thermal and pollutant tolerance range profiles across a range of relevant generalist and specialist freshwater species. Experimental assays will gather these data in Cardiff and UKCEH Wallingford. 2) Use real-time ecological, hydrological and toxicological data, and future environmental scenarios, alongside trait-based modelling and empirical sampling to understand how multiple stressors jointly drive invertebrate community structure. 3) Integrate sampling, experiments, and modelling to predict how a crucial ecosystem service, secondary production (making primary production accessible to organisms at higher trophic levels, e.g. birds and bats), responds to multiple stressors. 

Practically, the student will gain training multi-species freshwater bioassays, ecotoxicology data handling and effect modelling, and in freshwater invertebrate identification and sampling techniques. They will be trained in community ecology concepts and statistics, the use and manipulation of climate prediction datasets, and in trait-based modelling.

Application criteria -

The ideal candidate will have: (1) a BSc in biological or environmental science (MSc is desirable); (2) experience in field biology and ideally freshwater systems and/or entomology; (3) data analysis skills and experience in R, Python or MATLAB; (4) a passion for the diversity of life on Earth.

Industrial partner -

Natural Resources Wales

How to Apply -

You can apply online - consideration is automatic on applying for a PhD in Biosciences, with an October 2024 start date.

Please use our online application service at and specify in the funding section state that you wish to be considered for School of Biosciences funding.

Please specify that you are applying for this particular project and the supervisor.

Information on the application process can be found here -

Biological Sciences (4)

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 About the Project