Linking palaeoecology and experiments to test peatland resilience to climate change
University of York | Environment Department | York | United Kingdom
Full or part time
Monday, January 11, 2016
Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
Environment Department, University of York
Peatlands are the largest terrestrial carbon store, locking away more carbon than all the world’s vegetation combined. The long-term fate of this carbon store will play a major role in our future climate. Quantifying the potential sensitivity of peatlands to environmental change is of vital importance. However, the way peatlands will respond to global change is far from clear. For example, whilst warming may promote plant growth, increasing the rate of peat formation and increasing the carbon sink strength, drying may lead to faster decomposition rates, greater peat loss and therefore decrease the carbon sink strength. Which of these processes will dominate?
To address these questions, in 2010 our group established a field experiment simulating drought and warming on a peatland in Wales. This experiment is delivering vital ecological and biogeochemical data, but even long-term experiments cannot adequately characterize the full peatland ecohydrological response to climate change, aspects of which may take decades or centuries. To gain a deeper understanding and make better predictions for the future, we need studies that link detailed mechanistic information from experiments with the longer temporal reach of palaeoecological records.
In this unique interdisciplinary project, the student will (1) compare modern carbon budgets from direct flux measurements with long-term carbon accumulation determined from the peat record, (2) apply palaeoecological proxies in the experiment to understand their climatic sensitivities, and (3) contrast the carbon flux response to the experimental treatments with the carbon accumulation response to climatic changes through the Holocene.
The supervisory team combines experts in palaeoecology with experts in biogeochemistry and plant ecology. The student will be based at the University at York but will spend time at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Edinburgh. The student will therefore benefit from the range of research facilities, scientific expertise and thriving student communities of both the University of York and CEH.
The student will receive training in all methods to be used in the project including palaeoecological techniques (elemental analysis, FT-IR, isotope, testate amoeba and plant macrofossil analysis), dating methods (210Pb, radiocarbon and tephrochronology), carbon flux measurements (gas and TOC analysis), plant ecology (vegetation survey, growth and decomposition metrics) and statistics. The project is open to students with at least a 2i degree in Geography, Environmental Science or Biology (or a closely-related subject) and interests in palaeoecology, biogeochemistry or ecology. Interested students are welcome to contact the first supervisor for further information.