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Wetlands under threat: Linking microbiomes, nitrous oxide emissions and climate change (LEHTOVIRTA-MOR_BIO23CDCC)

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr L Lehtovirta-Morley, Dr Mikk Espenberg, Prof C Murrell  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project


Wetlands comprise 8% of all the Earth’s terrestrial area and play a crucial role in carbon storage and greenhouse gas emission. Nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas (273 times that of CO2) and stratospheric ozone depleter, is released from changing global wetlands in vast quantities. Recent work from the members of the supervisory team suggests that a specific group of microbes, ammonia oxidising archaea, play an important role in wetland nitrous oxide emission [1]. It is predicted that land use change and climate change, leading to drainage and warming of wetlands, will exacerbate the nitrous oxide emission from the wetlands.  

The aim of this studentship is to examine the role of nitrogen cycling microorganisms, particularly ammonia oxidising archaea, in wetland nitrous oxide flux under different global warming and land use scenarios. This will reveal the microbial drivers underpinning greenhouse gas emissions and will inform land use management in the future.   

Research methodology 

This studentship will use a combination of powerful approaches, including bioinformatics, culture-based experiments, microcosm incubations and 15N isotopic tracers. This project is focused on drained and undisturbed wetlands in temperate (Estonia, UK) and tropical (Malaysia) regions. Metagenomic and comparative genomic analyses will be performed to determine the metabolic potential for nitrous oxide production in the microbiomes, and the predictions tested in pure cultures. Soil microcosms will be constructed to test how the nitrogen cycling microorganisms and processes respond to changes in moisture and temperature. 15N isotopic tracers will be used to discern the relative contributions of nitrification and denitrification to nitrous oxide emission in wetland soils. 


You will receive a thorough training in advanced research skills in molecular microbial ecology (qPCR, high-throughput sequencing, bioinformatics), microbiology and analytical chemistry (GC, IR-MS). You will join the thriving cohort of PhD students at UEA, attend courses on transferable skills, and present your research in lab meetings, departmental seminars and (inter)national conferences.  

Person specification 

This PhD is suitable for candidates with a BSc or MSc degree in Microbiology or Biological Sciences, and with a keen interest in microbiology. Willingness to travel overseas for field work is desirable.   

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the Critical Decade for Climate Change programme. For more information about the programme and details of how to apply, please visit  

For more information on the supervisor for this project, please visit the UEA website 

The start date for this project is 1st October 2023.

Funding Notes

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the Critical Decade for Climate Change programme, which will award PhD studentship funding from the Leverhulme Trust and UEA’s Faculties of Social Sciences and Science.

Successful candidates will be awarded a PhD studentship that pays tuition fees, a stipend (£17,668 p.a. for 2022/23), and funding to support research costs. Studentship funding is only available to applicants eligible for ‘Home’ fees status, including UK nationals and most EU nationals with ‘settled’ and ‘pre-settled’ status.

Further details of the Critical Decade programme can be found at:


Bahram M*, Espenberg M*, Pärn J, Lehtovirta-Morley L, Anslan S, Kasak K, Kõljalg U, Liira J, Maddison M, Moora M, Niinemets Ü, Öpik M, Pärtel M, Soosaar K, Zobel M, Hildebrand F, Tedersoo L, Mander Ü. (2022) Structure and function of the soil microbiome underlying N2O emissions from global wetlands. Nature Com 13: 1430. *Joint first authors
Lehtovirta-Morley LE (2018) Ammonia oxidation: Ecology, physiology, biochemistry and why they must all come together. FEMS Microbiol Lett 365(9):fny058.
Masta M, Espenberg M, Gadegaonkar SS, et al. (2022) Integrated isotope and microbiome analysis indicates dominance of denitrification in N2O production after rewetting of drained fen peat. Biogeochemistry (in press).
Lehtovirta-Morley LE, Stoecker K, Vilcinskas A, Prosser JI, Nicol GW (2011) Cultivation of an obligately acidophilic ammonia oxidizer from a nitrifying acid soil. PNAS 108:15892-15897.
Espenberg M, Truu M, Mander Ü, et al. (2018) Differences in microbial community structure and nitrogen cycling in natural and drained tropical peatland soils. Sci Rep 8, 4742.
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