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  PhD in Geographical and Earth Sciences - Healthy Peat Microbiota

   College of Science and Engineering

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  Dr Karen Cameron, Dr Jens Subke, Dr Adrian Bass  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Scottish peatlands are deep, expansive and crucial stores of carbon. They cover around 20% of the land, yet they contain over half of the total carbon stored within all Scottish soils. Damage to these fragile ecosystems, through drainage, physical disturbance or burning, upsets their ecological balance, and results in amplified release of stored carbon through greenhouse gas emissions. Careful management and restoration of these valuable natural resources is one of Scotland’s main strategies towards achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. Microorganisms play a vital role in the ecology of peatlands and in the release of greenhouse gases. This project will study relationship between peat microbiota, their environment and the formation and fate of greenhouse gases in healthy, damaged and restored peat landscapes. It will address a critical gap in our current knowledge of these systems, which will better equip management and restoration strategies, enhancing the success of future Scottish peatland projects.

Deep down in waterlogged, oxygen-starved peat layers, methane (CH4), a potent greenhouse gas, is produced when organic matter is consumed by methanogenic microorganisms. Higher up, where oxygen is available, methanotrophs can convert slow moving, diffuse CH4 into the less potent but more abundant greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2; 34 times less potent), before it is released to the atmosphere. In contrast, CH4 that bubbles up to the surface by ebullition moves too fast to be oxidised by methanotrophs, and so it is released to the atmosphere unchanged. The microbial ecology of diffusion and ebullition systems has yet to be reported, and the impact of damage to them and their ability to be restored to their original microbial condition is as yet unknown.

The main objectives of this project will be to:

1) Compare the microbial composition and activity of healthy peat systems sampled from CH4 diffusion and ebullition sites.

2) Investigate the impact of peatland destruction on microbial community structure and greenhouse gas cycling activity.

3) Determine the effectiveness of peatland restoration projects on restoring the microbial composition and activity to expected former states.

This project will adopt a range of multidisciplinary techniques to establish the composition, activity and drivers of greenhouse gas cycling microbiota within diffusion and ebullition CH4 release peat target sites, at damaged peat sites, and at peat restoration project sites in Scotland. The following approaches will be used:

1) Greenhouse gas flux measurements from a range of target sites

2) Greenhouse gas composition analysis and development of redox potential profiles

3) Microbial community composition profiling and functional potential analysis using molecular biology techniques

4) Linking carbon cycling activity to microbiota through stable isotope probing

5) Impact analysis of peatland damage to the microbial ecology of these systems


details can be found at

IAPETUS2 is looking for candidates with the following qualities and backgrounds:

A first or 2:1 undergraduate degree, or have relevant comparable experience – we welcome applications from those with non-traditional routes to PhD study;

In addition, candidates may also hold or be completing a Masters degree in their area of proposed study or a related discipline; &

An outstanding academic pedigree and research potential, such as evidenced through the publication of articles, participation in academic conferences and other similar activities.

Start-date: September 2022

For further details, see Applications should be made via before January 7th. Applicants are strongly encouraged to contact Dr Karen Cameron ([Email Address Removed]) well in advance of the deadline to discuss the application.

Biological Sciences (4) Environmental Sciences (13)

Funding Notes

IAPETUS2’s postgraduate studentships are tenable for up to 3.5 years, depending on the doctoral research project the student is studying and provides the following package of financial support:
• A tax-free maintenance grant set at the UK Research Council’s national rate, which in 2021/22 is £15,609.
• Full payment of their tuition fees at the Home rate;
• Access to extensive research support funding; &
• Support for an external placement of up to six months.
Part-time award-holders are funded for seven years and receive a maintenance grant at 50% of the full-time rate.