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The role of large mammals in determining forest structure, microclimate, and carbon storage potential


   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr Hannah Griffiths, Dr Tommaso Jucker  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Large mammal populations are increasing across Europe and their numbers are often controlled to realise forest restoration objectives because high browsing pressure impairs tree seedling recruitment. In some cases, mammals are completely excluded from forests to allow tree regeneration. However, mammalian herbivores are key components of forest ecosystems affecting vegetation diversity and structure, and C and nutrient cycling via direct and indirect pathways 1 . Furthermore, small scale disturbances created by large mammals is now thought to play a key role in creating and maintaining ancient forest structural characteristics and associated biotic communities 2 . Despite a growing appreciation of the importance of large mammals in woodland ecosystems, there remain gaps in our knowledge of how mammal activity in forests influence microclimatic conditions, soil biotic communities, vegetation structure and volume of deadwood. Therefore, habitat management techniques that exclude mammals, or control their numbers, lack a robust evidence base from which to make decisions on how to most effectively realise forest restoration, conservation and carbon storage objectives.

Project Aims and Methods: The overarching aim of the studentship is to understand how large mammalian herbivores influence vegetation structure 3,4, microclimate 5,6 , soil biotic communities and deadwood volume 7 in forest ecosystems. To achieve this, the candidate will work within a large-scale mammal exclusion experiment with sites in Finland, Germany, Romania, Italy and the UK, and use a combination of terrestrial laser scanning (TLS), an extensive network of soil data loggers and soil eDNA sequencing. This exciting combination of field work, new technologies and experimental manipulations will allow the candidate to address several key questions relating to the role of mammals within the forests of Europe and provide an evidence base to inform policy as well as forest management and restoration activities. Example questions include:

 What impact do large mammals have on soil microclimate and biotic communities, vegetation structural complexity and above-ground carbon stocks in forests?

 How do ‘old growth’ characteristics, such as remnant old trees and deadwood, respond to restoration operations, which focus on controlling mammal densities?

 How effective are mammal management approaches, interventions, and techniques for enhancing the value of trees and woods (of all ages) for biodiversity?

Within the broader remit of the project, prospective candidates will be encouraged to take an active role in shaping the exact direction and nature of the research to best suit their skills and interests.

Candidate requirements: The ideal candidate will have: - A BSc in biological or environmental sciences (MSc desirable) - Research experience in terrestrial ecology and/or field biology and a willingness to undertake extended fieldwork campaigns - Have or demonstrate the eagerness to learn strong analytical and computer coding skills and remote sensing techniques.

Project partners: This studentship will form an integral part of UKRI and NERC funded projects led by the supervisory team. Therefore, the candidate will be embedded within a larger collaborative network of researchers based in the UK and throughout Europe, and will benefit from the associated research infrastructure, expertise, and state-of-the-art equipment. Additionally, the project has been designed in collaboration with, and is supported by, The Woodland Trust as a CASE partner. This will allow the student to learn from and form links with the UK’s largest woodland conservation organisation and gain first-hand experience of practical forest management approaches. Finally, the project also benefits from being cosupervised by Tom Bishop (Cardiff University), an expert in modelling approaches to describe and predict microclimate; Tommaso Jucker (University of Bristol), an authority on remote sensing techniques to describe forest structural characteristics and carbon stocks; and Paul Eggleton (NHM), a world leader in invertebratemediated decomposition who will provide expertise in understanding how changes in forest structure could have cascading impacts on soil biota, decay rates and carbon stocks in deadwood.

Training: This project will involve extended periods of fieldwork in forest locations throughout Europe with an experienced, multinational research team. Depending on the questions that the student choses to address, training will include the use of TLS remote sensing equipment, allometric modelling and/or soil biogeochemistry, soil eDNA sequencing and bioinformatics as well as processing large data sets and statistical modelling.


Funding Notes

The application deadline is Monday 9 January 2023 at 2359 GMT.
Interviews will take place during the period 22 February – 8 March 2023.
Fully funded studentship including the tuition fee. Start in September 2023.
More information on the NERC studentship, can be found at: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/2023/sci/phd-great-western-four-doctoral-training-partnership-nerc/. To submit an application, go to: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/apply/.

References

1. Wardle, D. A. et al. Science 304, 1629–1633 (2004).
2. Hotchkiss, A. The Woodland Trust (2020).
3. Calders, K. et al. Remote Sens. Environ. 251 (2020).
4. Meeussen, C. et al. For. Ecol. Manage. 462, (2020).
5. Jucker, T. et al. Global Change Biology. 5243–5258 (2018)
6. Maclean, I. M. D. et al. Methods Ecol. Evol. 12, 1397–1410 (2021).
7. Yrttimaa, T. et al. ISPRS J. Photogramm. Remote Sens. 151, 76–90 (2019).

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