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Rising from the ashes: Understanding the biological resilience and social significance of fires in the UK

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Thursday, October 31, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Project description:

Aim: To investigate the resilience of upland soils to wildfires and examine the social significance of wildfires in the UK rural landscape.

Soils are a living, breathing, life-sustaining entity; but are facing increasing pressure from disturbance from environmental shocks such as wildfires. Wildfires are becoming more frequent in the UK, with 2019 already having nearly double the number of blazes for the whole of 2018. UK soils are not well adapted to fire and there is uncertainty surrounding their resilience to such events. Wildfires often occur in rural and marginal lands which are a valuable natural resource e.g. biodiversity and carbon sequestration, however, they also provide a high level of social capital e.g. livelihoods and sense of community. There is limited information exploring the social versus natural capital of soil resilience to burning within rural communities within the UK context. Here, we investigate how fire affects soil biochemical cycling, soil microbial community structure and function. Results will be used to assess short- (e.g. vegetation and soil loss) and long- (e.g. C sequestration) term changes to soil ecosystems in response to wildfires. This research will not only help ascertain the resilience of UK soils, but will also be the first study to investigate the geography of fire, exploring the social significance of fire and examine the social relationships with fire in rural communities. This co-created project will contribute to a bottom line approach to fire management (social, economic and environmental) and inform how the fire service prioritises its response in the future. This is important if severity and frequency of fires continues to rise, adding increasing pressure to an already stretched fire service. This proposal will explore the impacts of recent UK wildfire events on soil health, in terms of soil nutrient status and the recovery of soil post fire. In addition, this proposal will explore the social and natural capital of soils resilience to wildfires exploring the implications of these events within rural communities/societies and the long-term legacy for future wildfire management within rural areas. This project is timely, exciting and high-impact, being societally relevant and pivotal to developing new external partnerships (Staffordshire Fire Service and Staffordshire Wildlife Trust) two key stakeholders interested in enhancing the UK’s resilience to environmental shocks. This unique project is truly cross-disciplinary bringing together aspects of social and rural geography, soil biochemistry as well as soil microbial ecology. We will achieve this through 4 key work packages:

Specific work package objectives:
WP1: To quantify chemical (bulk and compound specific) changes in soil organic matter composition after a fire event.
WP2: To characterise microbial community (bacterial and fungi) level changes after a fire event and if water sources used to fight the fires, may have introduced new species to the area.
WP3: To determine the effects of fire on soil microbial activity and function to identify any wider consequences to overall nutrient cycling and examine rate of regeneration of the site post fire.
WP4: To examine the social and natural capital of soil resilience to wildfires exploring the implications of these events within rural communities/societies and the long-term legacy for future wildfire management within rural areas.

Keele University values diversity, and is committed to ensuring equality of opportunity. In support of these commitments, Keele University particularly welcomes applications from women and from individuals of black and ethnic minority backgrounds for this post. The School of Geography, Geology and the Environment and Keele University have Athena Swan awards and Keele University is a member of the disability confident scheme.

More information is available on these web pages:

Please quote FNS GS 2019-19 on your application. Studentship available from January 2020.

Funding Notes

Funding support is provided as follows:
100% UK/EU tuition fees for 3 years commencing Academic year 2019/20 (UK/EU fees are £4,327 per annum for 2019/20)
Stipend support for 3 years at Research Council Rates (2019/20 stipend £15,009 per annum). Some support for conference attendance will be available.
Source of funding: Faculty of Natural Sciences, Keele University.

Eligibility Criteria
Minimum of BSc (2.1 or higher) Environmental Science, Geography or equivalent related discipline.
Overseas students are eligible but need to pay the difference between UK/EU fees (£4,327 per annum for 2019/20) and overseas fees. Overseas fees are £23, 840 per annum)

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