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Predicting the dynamics of community biomass and size distributions in freshwater communities exposed to long-term warming. PhD in Biosciences (NERC FRESH)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, December 16, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Lead supervisor:
Prof Gabriel Yvon-Durocher, Department of Biosciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional supervisors:
Dr Ben Ashby, University of Bath
Dr Jeremy Biggs, Freshwater Habitats Trust
Prof Isabelle Durance, Cardiff University

The NERC Centre for Doctoral Training in Freshwater Biosciences and Sustainability (GW4 FRESH CDT) provides a world-class doctoral research and training environment, for the next generation of interdisciplinary freshwater scientists equipped to tackle future global water challenges. GW4 FRESH harnesses freshwater scientists from four of the UK’s most research-intensive universities (Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter) plus world-class research organisations the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and British Geological Survey (BGS).

For an overview of the GW4 FRESH CDT please see website

Note, the research projects listed are in competition with other studentship projects available across the GW4 FRESH CDT Partnership. Up to 14 studentships will be awarded to the best applicants.

Project Description
Understanding how the physiology of individuals constrain ecosystem dynamics is of fundamental importance to predicting the effects of climate change on our environment. Theory predicts that the temperature dependence of individual metabolic traits weighted by species-abundance distributions should be enough to (1) predict the size distributions of communities at a given temperature, and (2) predict how the taxonomic sorting of a community can evolve as a function of a new temperature regime.

Recent evidence demonstrates that rates of respiration accelerate at a faster pace than growth rates following acute increases in temperature. A direct, but unexplored consequence of this phenomenon is that the cost of growth increases with temperature, leading to the prediction that warmer environments should be characterised by less efficient energy transfer through food chains with less biomass at higher trophic levels.

The PhD student will investigate this novel prediction with a research programme that involves the development and integration of metabolic, food web, and evolutionary theories with a series of experimental ponds and field tests linking individual physiology to ecosystem and food web structure. The student will capitalise on a new state-of-the-art mesocosm facility as well as ecophysiology laboratories at the University of Exeter (Cornwall campus in Penryn). The student will quantify the taxonomic composition, and the effects of temperature on rates of whole-organism oxygen consumption and growth simultaneously in an array of freshwater ectothermic taxa spanning 4 trophic levels from phytoplankton to zooplankton continuously exposed to two levels of warming. The student will benefit on existing funds from the main supervisor who is funded by a NERC IRF. Moreover, the student will collaborate with their team of supervisors to develop novel theory in order to predict, and design experiments to test how warming will affect ecosystem functioning (measured as taxonomic composition, the slope of the size spectrum, whole-pond carbon and oxygen flux, and biomass size distribution) at the beginning and end of the project. This PhD project thus aims at delivering a predictive framework to help forecast how the functioning and dynamics of aquatic ecosystems will play out as the climate warms.

Project specific enquiries should be directed to the lead supervisor, Prof Gabriel Yvon-Durocher:

Funding Notes

3.5 year studentship consisting of full UK/EU tuition fees, as well as a Doctoral Stipend matching UK Research Council National Minimum (£15,009 for 2019/20)

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