- Measuring sand dune wetland vegetation responses to past environmental change and modelling impacts of future change.
- Working with key conservation organisations at internationally important wildlife sites around the UK.
- Development of novel bioindicators for condition of sand dune wetlands.
Application deadline: 25th January 2015
Sand dune wetlands are highly biodiverse and support many rare UK plant, invertebrate and vertebrate species. They are, however, severely threatened by human activities, in particular climate change and eutrophication. The extent of these habitats has declined by 30% at key sites over 20 years; an increase in site fertility was also detected (Stratford et al. 2013). There is, therefore, a pressing need to understand better their response to global environmental change. Currently, however, our understanding is limited, and conservation management is hampered by a lack of data on the current condition of dune wetlands, and on their response to environmental change drivers.
To better understand the reasons and mechanisms for this decline there is a need to develop novel methods to predict sensitivity to these key threats. Plant functional traits (PFTs, e.g. leaf size, root length, growth form, plant height, nutrient uptake strategy) are a promising option in this respect; they are a potentially powerful method for understanding, predicting and monitoring vegetation responses to environmental change. This is because PFTs are shared across species, relate directly to how plants – and so ecosystems – function, and can be relatively easily measured.
Figure 1:Modelled climate change impacts on dune wetlands in north west England (Curreli et al. 2013).
This PhD will use analysis of PFTs to determine how dune wetland plant communities are affected by two key environmental change drivers: climate change and eutrophication. PFTs will then be combined with other plant community metrics to develop a set of easily measured indicators of the condition of dune wetland plant communities.
We are looking for an ecology, environmental science or geography graduate who is willing to travel around the UK to work on some of the most valuable sand dune ecosystems in Europe. The student will work with government, NGO and private sector stakeholders to produce high quality science that will have real, applied impact beyond academia.
The aim of this PhD is to answer the following questions
- Do plant functional and community-mean traits capture biological responses to hydrological change and eutrophication?
- Can response functions be derived which quantitatively link metrics of hydrological regime or nutrient status to biological condition, and do these response functions differ according to soil pH, community age and management?
- Are these approaches transferable to new wetland communities?