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Plant-microbial interactions: legume-rhizobial cover crops under drought and climate change

Department of Animal and Plant Sciences

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Prof D Cameron , Dr E Harrison , Prof J Gray , Dr C Chater No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

To develop sustainable agriculture under climate change we need to tackle CO2 emissions and drought stress. Legume-rhizobial cover crops (leys) enhance carbon and nitrogen in soils, reducing vulnerability to drought and water pollution. However, legume-rhizobia partnerships vary widely in these traits and the direct role of these symbioses on plant water use and drought response is unclear. These unknowns have major implications for stakeholder decision-making when planting for multifunctional landscapes, rotation cropping, fodder, and forage crops. This PhD studentship explores the impact of legume cover species and their rhizobial symbioses on whole-plant and field-scale water use and water deficit responses. Soils are increasingly vulnerable to erosion caused by droughts and this will worsen with the increasing frequency of drought and flood events. By identifying the most promising water-use-efficient legume-rhizobial partnerships with resilience to water deficit, we could optimise leys for plant yields and soil improvement.

The ideal candidate will have a strong interest in agro-ecological issues, with an enthusiasm for a mix of field and lab work. Applicants should have a degree related to biology, environmental sciences, or agronomy. Experience in plant development or plant physiology would be beneficial. This multidisciplinary topic will provide the student with a diverse skill set in plant stress physiology, ecology, and soil science. The supervisory team spans two departments at the University of Sheffield with Prof. Duncan Cameron (founding director of The Institute for Sustainable Food) and Dr Ellie Harrison in the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, Prof. Julie Gray in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology and Dr Caspar Chater, a Research Leader in the Plant Resources Team at RBG Kew. The project will be based at Sheffield, with close collaboration with Kew.

Science Graduate School
As a PhD student in one of the science departments at the University of Sheffield, you’ll be part of the Science Graduate School. You’ll get access to training opportunities designed to support your career development by helping you gain professional skills that are essential in all areas of science. You’ll be able to learn how to recognise good research and research behaviour, improve your communication abilities and experience the breadth of technologies that are used in academia, industry and many related careers. Visit to learn more.

Funding Notes

Fully funded studentships cover: (i) a stipend at the UKRI rate (£15,009 per annum for 2019-2020), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees. Studentship(s) are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements.
This PhD project is part of the NERC funded Doctoral Training Partnership “ACCE” (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment ACCE is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, York, CEH, and NHM.
Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview to take place in the w/c 10th February 2020.
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