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The distribution of ancient trees in the UK: using data and models to understand the present and predict the future

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  • Full or part time
    Dr T Reader
    Dr F Gilbert
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Ancient trees are of immense ecological and cultural significance, providing a tangible link to the past. Despite their importance, they have relatively little legal protection and, given the ongoing intensification of land use, there is a question over whether trees will continue to survive for long enough in the long term. The UK’s ancient trees are of European if not global importance: we have more ancient oaks than the rest of Europe put together. Yet almost nothing is known about them as a population, their distribution, species composition and age structure, their condition or rate of attrition. This project will address these issues using as a starting point the Ancient Tree Inventory and National Canopy datasets of the Woodland Trust. The project will explore:

(a) the distribution of ancient trees. The ATI does not record sampling effort, making it difficult to know whether the observed distribution is an artefact of recorder location and activity, or whether there are indeed “hotspots” of ancient trees. The project will use a combination of statistical analysis and new sampling to understand this issue and produce predictive models for the distribution of ancient trees.

(b) rates of attrition. Some species can live for thousands of years, but modern environmental and anthropogenic pressures are very high. There is evidence of the premature veteranisation of trees, suggesting changes in population age structure and consequential impacts on the species they support. Using the Woodland Trust’s volunteer network, the project will determine the rate of attrition among ancient trees by resampling from the ATI. This will help identify areas and drivers of conservation concern.

(c) succession. Are we planting enough trees for the population of ancient trees to be sustained? Current tree planting rates are very low compared to those over the last few decades, and are biased towards more open habitats, such as hedgerows, wood pasture and parkland. This part of the project will produce a strategy for future tree planting to ensure the continuity of ancient trees within the UK.

We are looking for an applicant with a good first degree in a biological subject (or possibly geography), with a strong interest in ecology and conservation, and ideally with some experience in statistical and/or biogeographic modelling. Familiarity with relevant software packages, such as R and ArcGIS would be helpful.

Enquiries should be directed to Dr Tom Reader on [email protected] CVs and references should also be directed to Dr Reader prior to the closing deadline of 30th April 2017. Candidates shortlisted for interview will be contacted shortly after.

Funding Notes

Funding Notes: This PhD is fully funded, with a maintenance grant funded by the Woodland Trust, and the fees funded by the School of Life Sciences, University of Nottingham.

How good is research at University of Nottingham in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 90.86

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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