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Unravelling and modelling endogenous controls of plant respiration. PhD in Geography (NERC GW4+ DTP)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, January 06, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Lead Supervisor
Dr Stephen Sitch, Department of Georgraphy, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors
Dr Lina Mercado, Department of Georgraphy, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter
Dr Anna Harper, Department of Mathematics, College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter
Dr Douglas Clark, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford
Prof Dan Bruhn, Department of Biology, Aalborg University, Denmark

Location: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter, EX4 4QJ

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the GW4 Alliance of research-intensive universities: the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five unique and prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in the Earth, Environmental and Life sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in scientific research, business, technology and policy-making. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

- A stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,009 p.a. for 2019/20) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
- Payment of university tuition fees;
- A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
- A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
- Travel and accomodation is covered for all compulsory DTP cohort events
- No course fees for courses run by the DTP

We are currently advertising projects for a total of 10 studentships at the University of Exeter

Project Background

The reliability of current and future climate predictions depends, among other factors, on how well key processes are represented by climate models, our current tools to predict climate change. It is now well understood that the land carbon cycle has a strong influence on our climate (Booth et al 2002, Friedlingstein et al 2014). Specifically, plant respiration is an important component of the global carbon cycle, releasing CO2 back from vegetation to the atmosphere. However it is still poorly represented in these models resulting in likely overestimate of simulated global rates of respiratory fluxes, which introduces a large uncertainty in future climate prediction (Atkin et al 2015; Huntingford et al 2017). Moreover, we know that plant and ecosystem respiration vary through the 24 hour daily cycle due to both variations in temperature but also due to endogenous rhythms, i.e. the circadian clock (Bruhn et al. 2008 and unpublished data sets from the supervisory team). However, current state-of-the-art models only account for the former. This project will use a combined data-modelling approach to fill this knowledge gap and thus help improve carbon cycle and future climate predictions. The main hypothesis this project will test is that we expect diurnal variation in plant respiration to be equally controlled by temperature fluctuations and circadian rhythms.

Project Aims and Methods

The aim of the project is twofold : i) improve our understanding of endogenous controls of plant respiration over the diurnal cycle and based on this ii) develop an algorithm suitable for implementation in land surface & climate models that can properly represent both the temperature and endogenous control of plant respiration.

The method involves a combination of measurements and modelling :

Collection of plant respiration data in different ecosystems (temperate, tropical, tropical montane) over the diurnal cycle.
Data analysis to develop an algorithm that can represent endogenous and temperature influences on plant respiration.
Implementation of plant respiration algorithm into the JULES model.
Application of our new algorithm to assess implications of introducing endogenous rhythms controlling plant respiration on current and future climate predictions.
The project offers excellent opportunities for generating new understanding and high-impact publications.

There is flexibility for the candidate to decide on research direction within the topic of the project, and to be in charge of experimental design, data analysis and modelling protocol.

Funding Notes

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2020 entry. For eligible students, the studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,009 per annum for 2019-20.


References / Background reading list

Atkin et al 2015, New Phytologist, 206:614-636

Booth et al 2012, Environmental Research Letters, 7:024002

Bruhn et al 2008, Plant Biology, 10:185-193

Huntingford et al 2017, Nature communications, 8:1602

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