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Nitrogen controls on ecosystem functioning in neotropical dry forests

Project Description

Global agriculture is rapidly expanding in response to the growing demand for food, with ‘agricultural frontiers’, such as dry and fertile lands of the Gran Chaco in South America contributing to this need. The croplands produce large quantities of food cheaply as infrastructure develops and investments grow. However, conflicts between economic development and environmental degradation are acute. Poor management and planning could risk both sustainable food security and ecosystem resilience. Much of the worlds’ livestock are fed with soybean protein produced in the Gran Chaco region.

Large-scale deforestation to make space for agriculture has resulted in massive biodiversity loss due to fire and flooding. In a globally intricate food system, the deterioration of natural resources in key food producing areas poses a serious threat to global food security.

By combining knowledge from agricultural systems, soil nutrient cycling and ecology, and conservation biology this project will assess risks of potential ecosystem feedbacks created by the expansion of soybean and livestock production by measuring key indicators of ecosystem functioning. This will be achieved by measuring N availability, and C and N stocks and fluxes in transects from permanent forest monitoring sites to adjacent soybean and grazing lands.

The field work will be conducted in Argentina in the Gran Chaco region, as part of a collaboration with Professors Esteban Jobbagy and Lucas Borras from the National Research Council (CONICET). This project will use complementary expertise from Lancaster University (Professors Rufino and Ostle), CEH (Dr Jeanette Whitaker) to quantify changing C and nutrient cycles for the shrinking of globally important and fragile dry forest.

The successful candidate will have the opportunity to study vegetation changes (forest, grasslands and croplands), and soil dynamics in the field, and to conduct manipulation studies with advanced techniques to understand the underlying microbial ecology driving long-term ecosystem changes.

Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in subjects such as Environmental Science, Plant and Soil Science or Ecology.

For further details please contact Prof Mariana Rufino or Dr Jeanette Whitaker .

Funding Notes

The studentship is only available to applicants from the UK and EU.

Each student will be supported by the tax-free stipend (£15,009 in 2019/20), typically for 3.5 years. In addition, for eligible students, the award will cover EU/UK fees.

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