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Valuing neo-native species. Is naturalised Scots pine a threat or benefit for climate resilience?

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  • Full or part time
    Prof A Jump
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

This project evaluates the role that tree species growing beyond their accepted native limits play in climate change adaptation, using naturalised Scots pine communities in northern England and southern Scotland as a case study.

Palaeoecological and ecological evidence indicate that species respond individualistically to climate change, recombining to form new communities. However, many conservation strategies do not allow for such changes in species composition, and this lack of flexibility may restrict species movements that are essential for adaptation to climate change. Scots pine colonised most of the British Isles following the last glaciation, but then underwent regional range contraction and is now accepted as native only in the Scottish Highlands. All other self-seeded growth is regarded as a potential threat to native biodiversity, even though overly restrictive definitions of native vs. non-native may reduce resilience to environmental change, particularly in island nations.

This project will use ecological and palaeoenvironmental methods to assess how newly-formed pine communities develop, how they compare with native and plantation pinewoods in terms of structural and species diversity, and how they impact surrounding open habitats. Potential reasons for retaining these communities include: (1) their potential contribution to biodiversity and adaptive capacity, (2) as insurance against future climatic fluctuations, given pine’s past sensitivity to climate change and contradictory predictions about future climate impacts, as well as emerging disease threats which will be more severe amongst smaller populations. However, there is also concern over their impact on colonised habitats. These are primarily open moorland and peatland which also have conservation value. Drainage of these habitats for agricultural improvement and afforestation means that many are in suboptimal condition and thus potentially more exposed to climate-induced drying. The merits of accepting or removing pine can only be assessed through case studies which allow principles of conservation adaptation to be tested in practice to understand when resisting change is ecologically and economically viable, and when accepting transformation at individual sites becomes essential for regional-scale population and species resilience.

This project will provide a robust evidence-base for evaluating the conservation role of these contentious communities. Europe lags behind the New World when considering how to move beyond static native/non-native classifications as part of conservation adaptation to environmental change. By starting with the overlooked middle ground between native and non-native, and initiating cross-border academic-practitioner debate on this topic, the project will allow us to take a lead in rethinking conservation adaptation.

For further information and details of partners in the project, see:

Application process:

Since this is a competition-funded studentship, applications will proceed according to the standard process for the NERC-IAPETUS studentships at Stirling. In the first instance, please contact Prof. Jump ([Email Address Removed]) to register your interest and to discuss applying. All enquiries must be received by January 4th 2016. You should include your CV and a covering letter when making an enquiry. The entry qualification for postgraduate studentships is a First Class or Upper Second Class Honours degree and/or a Masters degree in a relevant subject. Your covering letter should clearly set out your suitability and motivation for this PhD with reference to your past experience and achievements. If appropriate, you will then be directed to make a formal application through the University of Stirling PhD application system.

Funding Notes

This is a competition funded PhD studentship as part of the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership IAPETUS (View Website). For the successful candidate, the studentship will cover tuition fees and provide a stipend for UK students only (but see NERC funding rules for exceptions regarding citizens from elsewhere in the EU).

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