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Resilience and Acclimation Potential of the Lichen Flora in Temperate Rainforests

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Thursday, January 09, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Temperate rainforest is globally rare, restricted to zones of high moisture and mild temperatures, and with a unique assemblage of lichen epiphytes. This project assesses resilience of temperate rainforest lichens to climate change.

Project background
Understanding the impact of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystems is the major scientific challenge. To prioritise the protection of the most vulnerable habitats, it is necessary to characterise resilience: the capacity of an ecosystem to maintain function, while enduring change. Using globally rare temperate rainforest as a study system, this project will investigate resilience at the species level, by examining whether thermal acclimation can minimise immediate, short-term effects of climate heating. Thermal acclimation is well known in vascular plants (1) and has also been reported for lichens (2, 3). Lichens are the dominant epiphytes characterising temperate rainforest but are also a component of the worldwide important cryptogam cover that accounts for c. 50% of terrestrial N fixation and significant amounts of carbon capture (4, 5). Recent reports indicate that, for temperate rainforest lichens, sensitivity to climate change remains a key area of uncertainty (6), weakening conservation policy. Understanding climate sensitivity in terms of the acclimation potential, for a range of species, would provide the mechanistic basis needed in assessing climate change risk.

Research questions
The PhD project will address the following research questions:
1. How will physiological rates of photosynthesis and respiration change under warmer growth temperatures (climate change scenarios) and how will this affect lichen growth rates?
2. What is the impact of extreme events (heatwaves) on temperate rainforest lichen physiology and stress levels?
3. How will responses differ when comparing short-term warming events (heatwaves) to long-term changes in growing conditions?
4. Is thermal acclimation species-specific or can it be grouped into life-history traits? Are there species with greater climate-sensitivity?
5. How will lichen distribution patterns in temperate rainforests be affected by climate heating?

This project will establish the ability of lichens to achieve acclimation to temperature change by measuring photosynthesis and respiration. The core methodology is based on experimental fieldwork as well as laboratory gas-exchange measurements of net photosynthesis and respiration, and stress physiology using chlorophyll fluorescence. The student will have access to field sites and laboratory facilities, including the opportunity to establish novel protocols across multisite experiments. The student will have significant scope to develop their own research ideas within the research questions. Fieldwork will be in Portugal, Scotland, and Norway and the project will involve close collaboration between the School of Geosciences and the Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh. Access to field sites and input on-site management will be provided from a non-academic collaborator ’Forest Research’, the UK’s principal organisation for forestry and tree-related research in support of sustainable.
Year 1: Identification of model species; Field site selection (Pilot study); Literature review; First field season
Year 2: Data analysis; short term experiments; Submit 1st manuscript: Effects of heatwaves on lichen growth and performance in temperate rainforests; Second field season
Year 3: Data analysis long-term experiments; Submit 2nd manuscript: Effects of increased growth temperature on lichen performance and fitness; Submit 3rd manuscript: Temperate rainforest epiphytes: How will their future look like?

A comprehensive training programme will be provided comprising both specialist scientific training and generic transferable and professional skills. The recruited student will gain skills in plant physiology and ecology, climate change science, experimental design, statistical analysis including modelling, open science best practice, science communication and field logistics. The PhD programme will benefit from an international collaboration including with the University of Waikato, New Zealand, the University of Madrid, Spain and will provide opportunities for the recruited student to develop their own targeted research questions including through supervisory experience. The School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh has a large research student cohort that will provide peer-support throughout the research program. Analytical training will be provided by the supervisors or technicians for all instrumentation required.

Funding Notes

This is a NERC funded E4DTP project

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1. Oechel, W. C., Vourlitis, G. L., Hastings, S. J., Zulueta, R. C., Hinzman, L., & Kane, D. (2000). Nature, 406, 978-981;
2. Colesie, C., Büdel, B., Hurry, V., & Green, T. G. A. (2018). Global change biology, 24, 1123-1135;
3. Lange, O. L. & Green, T. A. (2005). Oecologia, 142, 11-19;
4. Porada, P., Tamm, A., Kleidon, A., Pöschl, U., & Weber, B. (2019). Biogeosciences, 16, 2003-2031;
5. Porada, P., Weber, B., Elbert, W., Pöschl, U., & Kleidon, A. (2013). Biogeosciences, 10, 6989-6989;
6. Ellis, C. (2013). Terrestrial Biodiversity Climate Change Impacts Report Card;
7. Ellis, C. J., & Eaton, S. (2018). Scottish Geographical Journal, 134(3-4), 257-267.
8. Dietrich, M., & Scheidegger, C. (1997). The Lichenologist, 29(3), 237-258.;
9. Cornelissen, J. H., Lang, S. I., Soudzilovskaia, N. A., & During, H. J. (2007). Annals of Botany, 99(5), 987-1001.

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