BES Forest Ecology Group

A British Ecological Society Special Interest Group

PhD Studentship: Edge Effects and the Forest Carbon Cycle

Forest edge effects on wood decomposition and fungal community development

Location: School of Biosciences, University of Cardiff

Supervisors: Professor Lynne Boddy (Cardiff University), Dr Dan Bebber (Exeter University) & Dr Martha Crockatt (Earthwatch Institute)

Forests and woodlands around the world are increasingly fragmented. In the UK, three quarters of woodland area is within 100 m of the edge (Riutta et al. 2014, pp. 949-961). Edges tend to be drier and warmer, due to insolation, wind and associated evapotranspiration, with gradients that penetrate hundreds of metres into forests. Wood and leaf litter decomposition – key components of the carbon cycle – are controlled by saprotrophic fungi. The rate at which decomposition occurs is determined predominantly by the effects of water and temperature on the activity of individual fungi and on the composition of the fungal community (since different species cause different rates of decay), the structure of which is itself influenced by these abiotic factors as well as by biotic factors. A preliminary study has revealed that edge effects, particularly due to water regime, have a major effect on the wood decay rate in southern England (Crockatt & Bebber 2014), but effects on and of fungal communities are unknown. The aim of this PhD project is to determine edge effects on fungal community structure, and on the rate of wood decomposition. A combination of different field and laboratory approaches will be employed. Fungal community composition in naturally fallen and colonised wood along transects from the woodland edge inwards will be determined by culturing, and by DNA extraction and next generation sequencing. Experiments will be conducted in woodlands under two different climatic regimes (low annual rainfall in eastern England and high annual rainfall in the South West), to determine how edge effects on decomposition vary geographically. Wood discs colonised by a range of fungal species, representing early, middle and late stage colonisers, will be deployed along transects from the forest edge, to determine effect of distance from edges on subsequent fungal community development and decay rate. An angiosperm (beech, Fagus sylvatica) and a conifer (Norway spruce, Picea abies) will be compared. Field experiments will be backed up by laboratory experiments on decay rate under controlled temperature and moisture regimes. The relationships between climate and decomposition rates will be combined with spatial data on woodland extent1, to build a model of the influence of edge effects across the UK. Climate change projections will be used to estimate potential wood decomposition rates and fungal community composition in the future.

compressed fairy bonnetsAcademic criteria: 2:1 degree in any Biological Sciences subject/ equivalent.

How to apply: Please email your CV and a covering letter to the primary supervisor of the project(s) you are applying for, including two named referees. Additionally, applicants should submit an application for postgraduate study via the Cardiff University Online Application Service, including an upload of your CV. Applicants should select Doctor of Philosophy (Biosciences), with a start date of October 2016. In the research proposal section, please specify the project title and supervisors of this project and copy the project description in the text box provided. In the funding section, please select “I will be applying for a scholarship / grant” and specify that you are applying for funding from NERC GW4+ DTP.
Funding Notes

This NERC GW4+ DTP studentship covers UK/EU tuition fees and a stipend (£14,057p.a. for 2015/16).

This project is one of a number of projects and is in competition with one or more of these projects. Usually the project which receives the best applicant will be awarded funding.

Full awards are open to UK Nationals/ EU Nationals who have been in the UK for 3 years prior to the programme start. EU Nationals not meeting this requirement are eligible for a fees only award, provided they have been resident in the EU for 3 years prior to the programme start.


1) Crockatt ME& Bebber DP (2014) Edge effects on moisture reduce wood decomposition rate in a temperate forest. Global Change Biology. DOI:10.1111/gcb.12676
2) Riutta T, Slade EM, Morecroft MD, Bebber DP, Malhi Y (2014) Living on the edge: quantifying the structure of a fragmented forest landscape in England. Landscape Ecology, 29, 949-961.

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This entry was posted on October 6, 2015 by in Studentship.

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