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Quantifying synergies between multiple stressors and biodiversity loss on the functioning of freshwater microbial communities. NERC FRESH CDT studentship, PhD in Biosciences

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, December 17, 2018
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Lead Supervisor
Professor Gabriel Yvon-Durocher, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors
Dr Jeremy Biggs, Freshwater Habitates Trust
Dr Daniel Read, CEH
Professor Andrew Weightman, Cardiff University

Location: Penryn Campus, University of Exeter, Penryn, Cornwall.

The NERC Centre for Doctoral Training in Freshwater Biosciences and Sustainability (GW4 FRESH CDT) will provide 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 23 other studentship projects available across the GW4 FRESH CDT Partnership. Up to 12 studentships will be awarded to the best applicants.

Project Details
Substantial evidence exists across a wide variety of regions and taxonomic groups that ecosystems with higher levels of biodiversity are also more productive and stable. Biodiversity loss, driven by factors such as land use change, pollution, and invasive species, is occurring in parallel with rapid global environmental change (e.g. warming, acidification, eutrophication) yet our understanding of the potential for synergies between these multiple facets of environmental change on ecosystem functioning is severely limited because most experimental manipulations of biodiversity loss are conducted under ambient environments.

Theory suggests that variance in traits that determine environmental tolerance should play a key role in mediating the impacts of abiotic change on ecological dynamics and ecosystem functioning. If species loss occurs independently of environmental tolerance traits (as might be expected from the effects of land-use change, nutrient loading, or invasive species), then the additional impact of changes in the abiotic environment could result in pronounced declines in ecosystem function, because communities with fewer species will have a lower probability of including those with traits that enable them to cope with the novel environmental regime. As the number of environmental stressors rise, an increasingly large number of species (and traits) may be required to maintain ecosystem functioning.

This project will test these hypotheses using high-throughput experiments with microbial communities. We will isolate a wide range of microbes from freshwater ecosystems that have been subjected to diverse environmental stressors. We will capitalise existing experiments including long-term, warmed mesocosms in Dorset, geothermally warmed streams in Iceland and the Llyn Brianne experimental flumes. We will also utilize CEH’s Intelligent River Network GIS tool to identify catchments that have been subjected to range of anthropgenic stressors (e.g. nutrient loading, heavy metal contamination, acidification). We will quantify the tolerance of each isolate to variation in each stressor as well as factorial combinations of stressors using high-throughput techniques in the state-of-the-art microbial ecology laboratories at the University of Exeter, Cardiff University and CEH. Isolates will then be assembled into communities across a log2 scale of taxonomic richness to simulate biodiversity loss and exposed to the range of abiotic stressors in factorial experiments.

Ecosystem functioning will be quantified as community biomass and total respiratory CO2 flux measured using high-throughput respirometry. We will use information on the environmental tolerance traits of the isolates to understand how and why the diversity-functioning relationship is altered by multiple stressors as well as any covariance or trade-offs between environmental tolerance traits, which can be used to identify key taxonomic groups to target for conservation.

GW4 FRESH CDT welcomes applications from both UK and EU applicants. For further information regarding the eligibility criteria please see the Student Eligibilty section in the following web page

How to apply
Applications open on Monday 8th October and close at 9:00 on 17th December 2018

You will need to complete an application to the GW4 FRESH CDT for an “offer of funding”.

Please complete the application form at also sending a copy of your CV and a covering letter to the CDT by 9:00 on 17th December 2018.

After the closing deadline all applications and CVs will be forwarded to the lead Supervisor of the project(s) you have selected. They will interview you at a mutually convenient date in January 2019 (tbc) and submit their preferred candidate to FRESH CDT.

Shortlisted candidates will be invited to a panel interview in Cardiff in the week commencing 25th February 2019. Further details will be included in the shortlisting letter

For further details regarding the application process please see the following web page

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.

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