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Response of testate amoebae to peatland drain blocking: implications for biomonitoring of peatland restoration efforts

School of Natural and Built Environment

Belfast United Kingdom Ecology Environmental Biology Environmental Geography Geoscience Hydrology Microbiology Physical Geography Soil Science

About the Project

This project will examine the use of testate amoebae (microscopic single-celled organisms) as novel biomonitoring indicators for peatland restoration. It is a collaboration between QUB and Ulster Wildlife.

Peatlands are globally important habitats and carbon stores which are under threat from human activity and climate change. Over the last five decades, many peatlands in the UK and Ireland have had grips (drainage ditches) installed to lower water table levels and increase land productivity. In Ireland, gripping has been commonly used to dry out peatlands before the peat is harvested as fuel. However, gripping has been shown to have disastrous effects on biodiversity, hydrology and the amount of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) flux to water courses [1]. It has also caused marked degradation of these important terrestrial carbon stores and turned some of them into carbon sources. To reduce these impacts there have been several attempts to block these grips with dams to restore peat formation.

Testate amoebae are an important component of the soil microfauna and are very sensitive environmental indicators in peatlands [2]. They have been shown to respond rapidly to changes in water level. The aim of this project is to examine the efficacy of testate amoebae for biological monitoring of peatland grip blocking. The project is novel and will develop a new bioindicator for assessing the effectiveness of peatland restoration efforts.

Lead-supervisor Professor Swindles has been working in peatland science for over fifteen years and has pioneered the use of testate amoebae as bioindicators in peatlands [3]. Ulster Wildlife is one of 11 partners in the €9.1m Collaborative Action for the Natura Network project, which is supported by EU INTERREG Va funding (managed by the Special EU Programmes Body). As part of this work, Ulster Wildlife began an extensive programme of drain blocking across 10 Special Areas of Conservation, designed for the priority Annex I habitat Active Raised Bog, in 2020. Across all 13 bogs in the 10 SACs, Ulster Wildlife has a network of 100+ piezometers – these are dipped manually each month to provide a baseline for water table levels; in addition, about half are fitted with data loggers (which take water table readings every 15 minutes) to provide fine scale information about water-table fluctuations. This dataset (which will be analysed by hydrological engineers at RPS for Ulster Wildlife) will be made available to the student.

The student will benefit from Swindles’s expertise in the ecology of testate amoebae and the expertise in peatland ecology and restoration of the collaborative partner, Ulster Wildlife. The student will avail of high-quality hydrological data from Ulster Wildlife.


  • Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in 'Geography' at the School of Natural and Built Environment.
  • State name of the lead supervisor as ‘Professor Graeme Swindles’ on application.
  • State ‘DfE collaborative studentship’ as Intended Source of Funding.
  • To apply, visit


Please provide a research proposal in your own words, which sets out the research questions/problems; the research context and intellectual significance of the project; the research methods to be employed; the resources that will be used; a timeline; any safety or ethical considerations; and an indicative bibliography.

Please use the 'Research Proposal' section of the QUB Application form. Your proposal should be no longer than 1000 words (excluding references).

Funding Notes

This DfE-funded studentship is open to UK candidates. The value of an award includes the cost of approved fees as well as maintenance support. In academic year 2020-2021 the basic rate of maintenance support for a Research Studentship is £15,285. The start date for this project will be 1 October 2021.


[1] Holden et al. 2011. Water-table dynamics in drained and restored blanket peat. Journal of Hydrology 402, 103-114.
[2] Swindles et al. 2009. Environmental controls on peatland testate amoebae (Protozoa: Rhizopoda) in the North of Ireland: Implications for Holocene palaeoclimate studies. Journal of Paleolimnology 42, 123-140.

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