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Ecological responses to hydrological dynamism in temporary river ecosystems

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  • Full or part time
    Dr Rachel Stubbington
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Temporary rivers, including England’s iconic chalk streams, experience natural transitions between lotic, lentic, and terrestrial conditions, which contributes substantially to their high biodiversity. However, the dynamic nature of temporary streams also poses a unique and pressing challenge for the effective assessment and enhancement of the ecological quality. This project represents an exciting opportunity to collaborate with leading researchers from academia and industry to address this challenge and to contribute to the rapidly expanding discipline of temporary river ecology. The PhD research will contribute to EU-wide and global initiatives seeking to improve characterization of temporary rivers and their biodiversity, and will inform future initiatives to enhance ecosystem quality.

The natural variability and consequent high biodiversity of temporary rivers is threatened by anthropogenic pressures. Water abstraction, physical habitat modification, and land use alter ecosystem quality, but how instream communities respond to these interacting impacts remains poorly characterized. In particular, over-abstraction affects England’s chalk rivers, with habitat modification exacerbating ecological impacts of flow reductions. To address these threats, restoration schemes combining abstraction reductions and habitat enhancements have been implemented. Biomonitoring data collected during an extensive Environment Agency sampling campaign provides the opportunity to evaluate restoration projects and to identify effective practice. However, in England and across the EU, temporary river biomonitoring remains restricted to wet phases, limiting the robust assessment of variation in ecological quality as transition between wet and dry states. Developing dry phase biomonitors is now an EU-wide research priority, with the biotic groups such as terrestrial invertebrates warranting detailed evaluation.

The PhD project combines two complementary aspects. An extensive field work programme will be developed to characterize dry-phase communities across temporary chalk rivers of contrasting ecological quality, and to evaluate the ability of these biota (and potentially environmental DNA) to act as novel indicators of ecological status. Secondly, the project will evaluate the effectiveness of flow and physical habitat restoration as means of improving the ecological health of temporary rivers. This evaluation will be achieved by interrogating a 20-year Environment Agency data set that details the aquatic invertebrate communities, hydrological variability and physical channel characteristics of chalk rivers. Outputs of this research have the potential to inform biomonitoring in temporary rivers across and beyond the EU.

The PhD researcher’s skills profile will be enhanced by an extensive 3-year doctoral training programme encompassing discipline-specific and generic scientific skills. Specifically, you will be supported in developing a professional skills profile that encompasses proficiency in field and laboratory environments, advanced approaches to analyse complex ecological data, and scientific writing and publication. Funding is available to support your attendance of national meetings and international conferences, providing opportunities to disseminate project results and build a network to support your post-doctoral career development. As a member of the College of Science and Technology, you will belong to an active and diverse research community that spans our Schools of Science and Technology and of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences. Environment Agency co-supervision of the project will ensure your developing professional network encompasses industry as well as academia.

Entry requirements: A UK first-class or 2:1 BSc Hons (or NARIC equivalent) in ecology, environmental biology, physical geography, or a related discipline, plus research experience and/or a UK MSc or MRes with a minimum of a merit/commendation (or NARIC equivalent) in a relevant subject.

Funding Notes

This studentship is open to applicants wishing to study for a PhD full-time, and is expected to start in January 2018. The studentship will pay UK/EU* fees (£4,195 for 2017/18 and revised annually) and provide a maintenance stipend linked to the RCUK rate (£14,553 for 2017/18 and revised annually) for up to three years.

*Applications from non-EU students are welcome, but the successful candidate would be responsible for paying the difference between non-EU and UK/EU fees. Fees for 2017/18 are £12,900 for non-EU students.

Related Subjects

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FTE Category A staff submitted: 11.81

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