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The Consequences of Tree Diseases and Mitigation Options on Connectivity for Biodiversity

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  • Full or part time
    Dr R Mitchell
    Dr J Stockan
    Prof J Travis
  • 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

Trees provide habitat for a unique subset of biodiversity but are currently under threat from a range of non-native pests and diseases. Trees are not only an important component of forests but also play an important role in the wider landscape (hedges, gardens and parks) where, critically, they provide connectivity between woods. This connectivity is threatened as trees die due to diseases and as local authorities remove infected trees to stop trees falling on roads and railways. The impact this loss of non-woodland trees has on biodiversity is unknown. Our work will address this key knowledge gap by making joint use of the state-of-the-art modelling platform, RangeShifter and newly compiled ecological data on ash- and oak-associated species (AshEcol and OakEcol, Mitchell et al., 2014) to simulate the impact of the loss of ash and oak trees (two tree species currently under threat in the UK) on biodiversity. RangeShifter is an individual-based population model (Bocedi et al., 2014) that can represent a range of ecological life histories and that models dispersal in substantially greater detail than previous software. Additionally it is straightforwardly coupled to environmental layers (e.g. produced from a GIS) in order to simulate spatial dynamics across real landscapes. AshEcol is a database of the 955 ash-associated species, their level of association with ash and information on whether they will or will not use any of 48 alternative tree species. We are currently collecting information on oak associated species (OakEcol) and this will be completed by 1st April 2017.

Objectives To test the following hypotheses
1. The impact of the loss of ash/oak on the movement of species will depend on their level of association with ash/oak. With the greatest impact on obligate species and the least impact on cosmopolitan species.
2. The success of mitigation will depend on a) where replacement trees are replanted, b) which tree species are planted, c) the lag time between trees being planted and reaching a suitable size/age to be utilized.
3. The extinction debt of species following tree removal from the landscape is often paid over decades, offering opportunities for long-term planning to prevent biodiversity loss.
4. Radio telemetry of moths can be used to substantially improve parameter estimation of the dispersal behaviour of understudied moth species and thus decrease levels of uncertainty associated with model outputs.

Funding Notes

The studentship is funded under the James Hutton Institute/University Joint PhD programme, in this case with the University of Aberdeen. Applicants should have a first-class honours degree in a relevant subject or a 2.1 honours degree plus Masters (or equivalent).Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed in Jan/Feb 2017. A more detailed plan of the studentship is available to candidates upon application. Funding is available for European applications, but Worldwide applicants who possess suitable self-funding are also invited to apply.


Mitchell, R.J., Hewison, R.L., Hester, A.J., Broome, A. Kirby, K.J. (In press) Potential impacts of the loss of Fraxinus excelsior due to ash dieback on woodland vegetation in Great Britain. New Journal of Botany
Mitchell, R.J., Pakeman, R.J., Broome, A, Beaton, J.K., Bellamy, P.E., Brooker, R.W., Ellis, C.J., Hester, A.J., Hodgetts N.G., Iason, G.R., Littlewood, N.A., Pozsgai, G., Ramsay, S., Riach, D., Stockan, J.A., Taylor, A.F.S. and Woodward, S. (2016). How to replicate the functions and biodiversity of a threatened tree species? The case of Fraxinus excelsior in Britain. Ecosystems, 19, 573-596 (doi:10.1007/s10021-015-9953-y)
Broome, A., Mitchell, R., & Harmer, R. (2014) Ash dieback and biodiversity loss: can management make broadleaved woodlands more resilient? Quarterly Journal of Forestry, 108, 241-248
Mitchell, R.J., Beaton, J.K., Bellamy, P.E., Broome, A., Chetcuti, J., Eaton, S., Ellis, C.J., Gimona, A., Harmer, R., Hester, A.J., Hewison, R.L., Hodgetts, N.G., Iason, G.R., Kerr, G., Littlewood, N.A., Newey, S., Potts, J.M., Pozsgai, G., Ray, D., Sim, D.A., Stockan, J.A., Taylor, A.F.S. and Woodward, S. (2014) Ash dieback in the UK: a review of the ecological and conservation implications and potential management options. Biological Conservation, 175, 95-109
Mitchell, R.J., et al. 2014. The potential ecological impact of ash dieback in the UK. JNCC Report No. 483 http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-6459

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