We have an exciting opportunity for a PhD student to develop cutting edge experiments with an experienced peatland research team and translate their findings across a variety of policy-relevant platforms. The project aims to understand what happens to plant carbon inputs in restored peatlands and how vulnerable they are to climate change. Working across the three important research, policy and engagement platforms of the University of Stirling, the James Hutton Institute and the IUCN Peatland Programme, the student will have the freedom to shape the PhD project in a way that fits their skills and maximises the impact of their work.
Peatlands are a critically important carbon store: despite covering only 3% of the Earth’s surface, they contain 30% of the global soil carbon stock. At around 3 million hectares, the UK holds a disproportionately large amount of peatland. However, up to 80 % of this land has been degraded, causing significant carbon emissions. The Scottish government aims to restore 250,000 ha of peatlands by 2030, meaning that a significant portion of the Scottish landscapes will transition from a damaged or degraded state into a new ‘restored’ state. Peatland restoration addresses the raising of water tables, revegetating of eroded areas, and slowing of water flow, leading to reduced emissions of greenhouse gases and ultimately promoting carbon sequestration through plant growth and inhibition of decomposition rates.
As well as undergoing these land-use changes, peatlands are also experiencing rapid climate change and are suffering from extreme weather events such as heat waves and droughts that will threaten their ability to sequester carbon. The interaction between peatland restoration and climate-driven impacts have so far not been researched, and the objective of this project is to understand impact of climate extremes on the carbon cycle and greenhouse gas balance of restored peatlands, compared to degraded and pristine sites. The student will use a combination of approaches, involving experiments in the field, pot experiments and controlled environment facilities to understand and predict how resilient peatlands of different restoration stages are to climate change.
The project has the potential to address the following questions (although we encourage a flexible and student-led approach to identifying specific research foci):
1. What is the mid- to long-term greenhouse gas balance of restored peatlands and where is carbon deposited in these systems?
2. How quickly is carbon returned to the atmosphere from restored, degraded and pristine peatlands when under drought and temperature stress?
3. Does peatland restoration and management history impact soil microbial community activity and response to climate extremes, and what are likely impacts on carbon cycling?
The student will gain skills in ecosystem ecology, greenhouse gas exchange measurements, experimental design, data science and modelling, and a suite of associated analytical methods, including the use of stable isotopes in ecology. They will be embedded in the James Hutton Institute’s Peatland GHG and Hydrology team, meaning that they have connections to a wide range of peatland monitoring sites and will be connected to a range of policy, stakeholder and international networks. Furthermore, they will work directly with staff and gain access to facilities at the Scottish International Environment Centre (University of Stirling), where they will be embedded in a postgraduate cohort researching a wide range of current biological and environmental topics. A core element in this PhD project is continuous communication with, and advice from, the IUCN UK Peatland Programme, through co-supervision by their peatland code coordinator Dr. Kerkvliet-Hermans. This provides the student with a direct and unique connection between primary research, communication and application to policy.
Candidates must have a First, or Upper Second Class Honours or a Master’s degree with Merit, in ecology/biology/environmental science. They should also have:
• A strong interest in peatland science
• Strong time and data management and interpersonal skills
• Evidence of good verbal and written communication skills
• Ability to think about scientific questions critically and creatively
In addition to the above, it is desirable that candidates also have:
• Experience with labwork and fieldwork
• Knowledge of statistics in programmes such as R
• Experience of measuring greenhouse gas fluxes or use of stable isotopes in ecology
• A full UK driving licence
Funding is available for UK applicants only
Informal enquiries to Dr Thomas Parker ([Email Address Removed]) are welcome ahead of application.
Applications due 3rd November 2023
Interviews- 20-24th November 2023