NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship: The carbon cycle of an artificial tropical forest ecosystem

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Science

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). 

The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus six Research Organisation partners:  British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Met Office, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. 

The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see

 Main supervisor: Dr. Daniel Bebber (Biosciences, University of Exeter)

The carbon cycle is a fundamental Earth system process with profound influences on the global climate. Human activities have altered ecosystem composition and functioning around the world, through habitat destruction and by species introductions. A key question in applied ecology is how these introduced species form novel ecosystems, and how ecosystem services like carbon cycling are affected (Hobbs et al. 2006, Global Ecology & Biogeography 15:1-7). In this PhD, you will study the carbon cycle of one of the world’s most famous artificial ecosystems: the tropical biome of the Eden Project in Cornwall.

The carbon cycle of a forest biome comprises a number of pools (above-ground biomass in trees and other plants and animals, below-ground carbon in roots, litter and soil, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and dissolved organic matter in water) and fluxes (photosynthesis and respiration by plants, leaf litter fall, consumption and respiration by herbivores and microbes). You will measure these pools and fluxes using standard techniques developed for forests around the world (e.g. Fenn, K. et al. 2010, Biogeosciences Discussion 3:3735-63). You will quantify the size of the carbon pools, by measuring the size and estimating the biomass of the trees and plants, and by measuring the organic carbon in the soil and roots. You will quantify the carbon fluxes in the system by measuring changes in tree diameter to estimate biomass accumulation, the fall and decay rates of leaf litter, loss of plant material to herbivores and pathogens, consumption of herbivores by predators, carbon dioxide fluxes from the soil, and losses of organic carbon in irrigation water. By identifying the interacting species, and how their populations change over time, you will build up a detailed, dynamic food web and so understand how these different species interact.

You will benefit from supervisors with expertise in forest carbon monitoring, soil biology, plant pathology, and pest management, and will receive full support from your supervisors and staff at the Eden project. This studentship offers the opportunity to learn techniques employed in forest monitoring around the world, as well as employing sequencing technology to understand the microbial diversity of the ecosystem. The position offers ample opportunities for public engagement with science, and for future contribution to the critical question of how human activities are impacting the global carbon cycle.

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South West England