PhD Studentship: The Carbon Cycle of an Artificial Tropical Forest Ecosystem - Biosciences (NERC GW4+ DTP Funded)

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Sciences

Main Supervisor:  Dr Daniel Bebber, Department of Biosciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences

Co-Supervisor: Dr Lucy Rowland, Department of Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences

Co-Supervisor: Prof. Lynne Boddy, School of Biosciences, Cardiff University

Co-Supervisor:  Dr Rachel Warmington, Eden Project (CASE partner)

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. This PhD will study the carbon cycle of one of the world’s most famous artificial ecosystems: the rainforest biome (RFB) of the Eden Project in Cornwall. The RFB is an enclosed space of around 1 ha, containing plants gathered from tropical ecosystems around the world. While water and air can enter and leave the system, most plant and animal populations are contained within the dome. Thus, processes like carbon assimilation and nutrient cycling are performed by a limited set of species that have little evolutionary history as an ecosystem. A key question in applied ecology is how these introduced species form novel ecosystems, and how ecosystem services like carbon cycling are affected.

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. 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.

Candidate: This project would suit a candidate with a background in ecology or physical geography, with an interest in ecosystem function, food webs, biogeochemistry, forest dynamics, or climate change.

Our CASE partner is the Eden Project, who manage and own the site. The student will benefit from close interaction and support with Eden Project research staff, primarily Dr. Rachel Warmington. In 2015 Dr Warmington supervised internship project (3rd year undergraduate) 'Detection of notifiable diseases in trees at the Eden Project'. She will be the lead supervisor at the Eden Project, ensuring that the student has access to the required personnel, information and facilities while working at Eden. She will also provide expertise in analysing the role of plant diseases in tree mortality rates.

3.5 year studentship: UK/EU/International tuition fees and an annual maintenance allowance at the Research Council rate of £14,553 per year

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Type / Role:

PhD

Location(s):

South West England