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Sustainable Oil Palm Farming in Borneo: Uptake and Effects of Heavy Metals and Pesticides in Wildlife of the Oil Palm Plantation Affected Landscape of the Lower Kinabatangan Floodplain


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  Dr C Svendsen, Dr B Goossens, Prof Jason Weeks, Dr Gloria Pereira  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Lancaster United Kingdom Agricultural Sciences Ecotoxicology Environmental Chemistry Soil Science Zoology

About the Project

PhD opportunity based at the UK Centre for Ecology Wallingford with degree award from Cardiff University

The student will work to understand and map the importance chemicals have on wildlife in intensified agricultural zones. The Lower Kinabatangan Floodplain (working from Danau Girang Field Centre, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo) provides an ideal and iconic case study as a patchwork forest landscape influenced by oil palm plantations’ fertiliser and pesticide use. This project aims to develop further understanding of chemical pollution resulting from oil palm, the level of effect on local wildlife and geographical reach into surrounding rainforest and rivers.

The student will collate and measure chemicals levels in soils and waters and the diets, droppings, hair and body fluids (blood and urine) from capture/release animals and tissues from carcasses (e.g. road kills) of wildlife species. These values will be combined with environmental fate and biouptake models to build an understanding of the pollution footprint in the landscape, the potential risks to wildlife and he dependence of such risk on organism ecology, life stage, diet and habitat.

Based on this initial integration and combining multiple stressor and mixture modelling with chemical fate and exposure models, the student will establish the likely impacts of various oil palm systems on wildlife conservation. Recommendations will be discussed and worked upon with local oil palm smallholders and local stakeholders like Wild Asia.

The novelty of this project is taking a mixture and multiple stressors approach chemicals impact assessment in an oil palm producing area. The student will learn to assess environmental fate, uptake and risk of chemicals, use multi-stressor models, design monitoring schemes, undertake sampling and chemical chemistry and will have opportunities to apply scientific findings in a policy context. Being a full member of the UK CEH Pollution Science Area, visits to Cardiff and the Borneo field centre, plus secondments at JNCC, will provide a unique experience working with researchers and stakeholders in different sectors and disciplines.

The supervisory team is designed to support the student in the tasks of combining the knowledge of existing wildlife toxicology and monitoring with policy application (JNCC) and conservation ecology knowledge of the Lower Kinabatangan Floodplain.



This project is one of 22 projects being advertised by the NERC-funded ECORISC (Ecotoxicological Risk Assessment Towards Sustainable Chemical Use) Centre for Doctoral Training programme. More information on the CDT can be found at: Funding will be provided for 3 years and 10 months.

Over the first two years of their PhD programme, you will receive training in ecotoxicology; environmental chemistry, ecology; and risk assessment. Successful completion of this training will result in the award of phase 1 of the Certified Environmental Risk Assessor qualification from the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. The formal training programme will be complemented by residential events, an ECORISC annual conferences and skills training. You will also be asked to undertake two workplace experiences with our business, policy and regulation, third sector, and research partners.

An inclusive CDT programme

Inclusivity is at the heart of the ECORISC programme. We strongly encourage applications from under-represented groups and are employing a number of mechanisms, such as the possibility of part-time working, to ensure the programme is open to all. Any questions please contact us at [Email Address Removed].

Eligibility and Application process

The studentships are open to highly motivated UK and international/EU applicants with at least an upper second class Honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject.

To be considered for this and other ECORISC PhDs, you should initially complete an online application at: Applications should be submitted before 17:00 GMT on Monday 3rd January 2022. You will be notified of the outcome of your initial application by Monday 17th January 2022.

Successful applicants will then be provided with an opportunity to meet with supervisory teams and then be invited to submit a project-specific application from which candidates will be shortlisted for interview.


ECORISC open afternoon

We are running an online ‘open afternoon’ for you to learn more about the CDT and application process. This event will run from 1400-1630 GMT on the 9th December 2021 and booking details can be found on our website at:

Funding Notes

The studentship is funded under the NERC-sponsored ECORISC. Full details at the end of this advert.
This award provides annual funding to cover tuition fees and a tax-free stipend of £15,609 per year tax-free stipend.
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