Potential impact of climate change on the timing of phenology and geomorphology in biogeomorphic ecosystems

Potential impact of climate change on the timing of phenology and geomorphology in biogeomorphic ecosystems

Supervisor: Dr Thorsten Balke (thorsten.balke@glasgow.ac.uk); Dr Laura Turnbull-Lloyd (laura.turnbull@durham.ac.uk)

Description: Time-sensitive biological interactions such as, pollination or predation become mismatched as global warming advances or delays the timing of life cycle events (i.e. phenology) differently across species. At the same time the magnitude and timing of extreme weather events and associated Earth surface processes such as flooding and sediment erosion are changing. Plant communities at the land-water interface such as riparian forests, tidal marshes and coastal dunes (see photos) are shaped by physical disturbance but are also able to influence the landscape formation by trapping and diverting sediments. Landscape formation in biogeomorhpic systems is therefore determined by reciprocal feedbacks between biotic and abiotic processes which can drive the future state of a system (Balke et al., 2014, Turnbull et al., 2008). Biogeomorphic ecosystems at land-water interfaces are currently praised for their regulating ecosystem services such as flood and erosion protection but are also a hotspot for invasive species. Understanding how ecological functioning of biogeomorphic ecosystems will be affected by changes in climatic extremes is thus timely and necessary. Surprisingly, we currently do not know whether changing timing of plant phenological events and changing temporal regimes of Earth surface processes will create a potential bio-physical mismatch affecting local biodiversity and landscape formation. This mismatch could for example occur where timing of seedling emergence shifts towards periods of high physical disturbance or vice versa. This IAPETUS PhD studentship will investigate temporal mismatch between phenology and Earth surface processes at a seasonal scale. The Window of Opportunity (WoO) concept, developed by Balke in 2014, is a valuable new tool to identify and predict tipping points in biogeomorphic ecosystems. This widely applicable concept is the central framework for this studentship and will help to quantify and predict any biophysical mismatch effects using readily available long term monitoring data. The candidate will survey the seasonal phenology and geomorphological activity pattern across ecosystems (dunes, salt marshes, floodplains) in Britain. Additional warming experiments will be used to parameterize a model to predict biophysical match/mismatch in a changing climate.

Funding notes: IAPETUS’ postgraduate studentships are tenable for between 3 and 4 years, depending on the doctoral research project the student is studying and provides the following package of financial support:

  • A tax-free maintenance grant set at the UK Research Council’s national rate, which in 2017/18 is £14,553 (pending confirmation).
  • Full payment of their tuition fees at the Home/EU rate; &
  • Access to extensive research support funding.

Part-time award-holders are funded for between six (6) and eight (8) years and receive a maintenance grant at 50% of the full-time rate.

Eligibility: All applicants need to meet NERC’s eligibility criteria to be considered for an IAPETUS studentship and these are detailed in NERC’s current studentship handbook.
IAPETUS is only able to consider applications from Home/European Union candidates. International candidates are not eligible to be considered and where a candidate from another EU country has not been resident in the UK for 3 years or more prior to the commencement of their studies with IAPETUS, they will only be eligible for a fees-only studentship.

IAPETUS is looking for candidates with the following qualities and backgrounds:

  • A first or 2:1 undergraduate degree, or have relevant comparable experience;
  • In addition, candidates may also hold or be completing a Masters degree in their area of proposed study or a related discipline; &
  • An outstanding academic pedigree and research potential, such as evidenced through the publication of articles, participation in academic conferences and other similar activities.

How to Apply: Please refer to the following website for details on how to apply:

Deadline: 19 January 2018

Start Date: All studentships will commence in September/October 2018, except in exceptional circumstances.