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PhD Studentship: NERC GW4+ DTP PhD Studentship for 2024 Entry - Unravelling the Key Thermal Environment of Tropical Forest Trees

University of Exeter - Department of Geography

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Exeter
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: £18,622 p.a. for 2023-24
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 3rd November 2023
Closes: 9th January 2024
Reference: 4960

About the Partnership

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 five Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, 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.

Project Background

Leaf and not air temperature directly influence key metabolic processes in plants such as photosynthesis and respiration yet although now increasing, there is still relatively little leaf temperature data which impedes a full understanding of tropical forest function under current and future climate.

Leaf temperature and its regulation varies across tree species1. As part of two natural warming experiments in montane tropical systems in the Colombian Andes2 and in Afromontane Rwandan forest3, our team has found that species that are strong thermoregulators and are able to cope better and grow faster under increased temperatures3 than other species. This project offers an exciting opportunity to examine plant responses to warming. The successful candidate will have the opportunity to analyse (and collect*) a unique data set of leaf temperature and leaf structural characteristics -which influence leaf temperature- from both experiments for a variety of dominant tree species growing at different warming and water regimes. Analysis of these datasets will provide understanding of plant thermal strategies, diurnal patterns of leaf-to-air temperature differences across studied tree species, and physiological responses to temperature and water in both continents. This information will aid our understanding of which tropical trees are and will be able to thrive under future warming.

Project Aims and Methods

The overall aim of the project is to device the thermal strategies of key tropical montane forests. The data to be analysed consists of diurnal cycles of leaf-to-air temperature differences across experimental warming and irrigation levels, across dominant tropical Andean (collected in Jan-Feb 2023) and Afromontane tree species (to be collected in Sept-Oct 2024) and leaf structural characteristics that influence leaf temperature. The successful candidate will analyse the various data sets which can be used to answer various research questions developed by the student and the supervisory team. There is room for the candidate to bring their own ideas and influence research direction. 

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