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Understanding the drivers of plant diversity on farmland.

   Envision DTP

  Dr Jonathan Storkey, Prof Carly Stevens  Wednesday, January 12, 2022  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Harpenden United Kingdom Agricultural Sciences Biodiversity Ecology Environmental Biology Environmental Sciences Plant Biology

About the Project

Biodiversity on UK farmland has suffered dramatic declines as a result of the loss of seminatural habitats and intensification of crop production. Plant species adapted to farmland habitats (including ‘weeds’) are the foundation of the food web that supports higher trophic groups including taxa that provide ecosystem services such as pollination and natural pest control. This project will study the drivers of plant community assembly at the farm scale to facilitate management decisions that enhance biodiversity while minimising the negative impact of weeds in field centres. By studying plant communities in cropped fields and neighbouring semi-natural habitats on a range of farms, you will quantify the relative contribution of habitat filtering and dispersal processes in determining plant diversity at nested scales and the impact of the management of un-cropped areas on in-field weed community composition and function.

 You will have the opportunity to address fundamental plant ecology questions while contributing to meeting practical challenges around reconciling food production with conservation, working as part of a larger team effort auditing UK farmland for natural capital and ecosystem services. The joint supervisory team of Carly Stevens at Lancaster University and Jonathan Storkey at Rothamsted Research will give you access to world leading expertise, training and facilities in pant ecology and agroecology  

 The project will be largely field-based and involve surveying farms using novel nested sampling methodologies to quantify plant diversity (both inter and intra specific) at multiple scales and relating the results to landscape metrics including habitat heterogeneity and fragmentation. Field surveys will be supplemented with manipulative experiments to study the relative contribution of dispersal to weed communities in cropped fields and the adaptation of weed species to the selection pressure of crop management. 


We are looking for a graduate with a strong academic record (minimum IIi) in ecology, biological sciences or environmental science with an interest in biological conservation and good quantitative skills. The project will involve travelling to field sites and a full UK driving license is essential. Some botanical expertise and familiarity with common UK plant species would be desirable but training will also be provided.


Prof. Jonathan Storkey

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