PhD at the Eden Project – deadline 28th May

Project Description

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

The Studentship will be awarded on the basis of merit and will commence in September 2018. For eligible students the award will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum (2017/2018), research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.


Dr Dan Bebber (Biosciences, Exeter), Dr Lucy Rowland (Geography, Exeter), Prof. Lynne Boddy (Biological Sciences, Cardiff), Dr. Rachel Warmington (Eden Project).



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.

Project Aims and Methods

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.


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.

Case Award Description

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.


The student will attend mandatory courses of direct relevance to the project, on spatial data management (GIS) and analysis (R programming) and earth system modelling. The student will spend a week working with former colleagues of Dan Bebber at Wytham Woods, Oxfordshire, where a detailed forest carbon cycle monitoring programme has been in place since 2007. In addition, the student will receive training on molecular species identification for fungal pathogens and decomposer organisms (ITS sequencing), and on metagenomics for characterization of the soil microbiome

Entry requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree. Applicants with a minimum of Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the project

Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.

Funding Notes

For eligible students, the studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-18.

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