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The role of fungal networks in the storage and transport of radionuclides in forests

   Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

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  Dr F Cox, Dr Jon Pittman, Dr C Robinson  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Environmental contamination of radioactive elements is a significant worldwide problem, threatening health of people and ecosystems. Gaining a better understanding of how these elements behave in the environment is therefore of critical importance. Fungi are known to act as bioaccumulators of some radionuclides, but the extent to which fungi take up radionuclides is highly dependent on the element, the local environmental conditions and the particular species of fungi involved. In this PhD, we focus on the role that ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi might play in the movement of radionuclides such as U, Th and Ra in forest ecosystems. These fungi form mutualistic associations with the roots of most temperate tree species, taking up nutrients and other elements to provide to the host plant, while receiving a source of carbon from the plant. ECM fungi therefore have the potential to play a critical role in the extent to which radionuclides become stabilised in fungal tissues, or are transferred to the host plant in many radioactively contaminated ecosystems of the world.

 In this PhD you will investigate how different species of ECM fungi differ in their uptake of key radioactive elements both when in pure culture and when growing in association with a host plant. You will then test how changes in key environmental variables such as drought and nutrient availability might alter the rate of uptake to consider how movement of radionuclides may be affected by environmental change. Lastly, you will test how important ECM fungal uptake of radionuclides is in controlling movement of radionuclides to below-ground food webs, by assessing transfer rates to fungivorous soil fauna, and how this is altered by the community composition of the ECM fungal community.

 During the course of your PhD you will receive training in microbiological and molecular techniques, plant husbandry, autoradiography, ICP and soil nutrient analyses.

You will be part of the Soil and Ecosystem Ecology lab, a vibrant and supportive group of four PIs plus multiple PhDs, post-docs and technicians working on diverse aspects of plant-soil interactions.

Dr Clare Robinson’s University webpage:

Jon Pittman’s University webpage:

Filipa Cox’s University webpage:

 Soil and Ecosystem Ecology Laboratory webpage:


Funding Notes

Fees and stipend provided at the current UKRI rate. Start date of July 2023


1) Dighton, J., 2019. Chapter 8: fungi and remediation of radionuclide pollution. Fungal Bioremediation: Fundamentals and Applications.

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