Funded PhD opportunity: the palaeoenvironmental history of ancient deciduous woodlands in Scotland

Funded PhD opportunity: the palaeoenvironmental history of ancient deciduous woodlands in Scotland

About the project

This PhD aims to investigate long-term changes in the composition and disturbance dynamics of ancient native broadleaved woodlands in Scotland, with the results helping to guide ideas about the conservation management of these vegetation communities in response to predicted changes in climate. The student will use palaeoecological techniques – pollen and plant macrofossil analyses and associated proxies (e.g. micro- and macroscopic charcoal records and non-pollen palynomorphs), in combination with radiocarbon and lead-210 dating – to reconstruct the long-term ecology of ancient deciduous (i.e. non-Caledonian pine) woodland fragments. The project will target two contrasting bioclimatic regions to assess legacy effects and climate resilience: the oak-dominated woodlands of the lowlands and upland margins of northeastern Scotland (e.g. Aberdeenshire, Banff and Moray), an area for which very little published palaeovegetational data currently exists; and the mild and wet Atlantic oakwoods of the west coast (e.g. Ardnamurchan, west Argyll), which are highly valued for their ‘temperate rainforest’ biodiversity. The aims of the research are: (i) to establish how woodland cover and structure have changed over time, with particular emphasis on the longevity and stability of current woodland communities, both key attributes affecting levels of biodiversity; (ii) to determine how plant composition, diversity and community sensitivity to perturbations have altered in response to factors such as competition, soils, climatic changes, and the impacts of people and herbivores. Project findings will be used to test the validity of contemporary ecological models of woodland composition and dynamics that have been developed from shorter-term (sub-tree generation) ecological knowledge. The student will be welcomed into a vibrant palaeoecological research group within our Department of Geography & Environment, and will be supervised by staff from the Universities of Aberdeen (Dr Ed Schofield, Dr Tim Mighall), St Andrews (Dr Althea Davies) and UHI (Dr Scott Timpany).

Candidate requirements

The candidate should have, or be expected to achieve, a UK honours degree at 2.i or above (or equivalent) in a relevant subject area (e.g. geography, environmental science, plant ecology, archaeology). Experience with one or more standard palaeoecological techniques (e.g. pollen analysis, plant macrofossils) is desirable, although training will be provided, as required. The successful candidate will be expected to start in October 2018.

Funding model

This 3.5 year studentship is funded jointly by the School of Geosciences, University of Aberdeen, and SAGES (Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment and Society). The PhD is fully funded and includes an annual stipend for the student commensurate with current RCUK rates, payment of tuition fees, and a research training support grant. Applications will be accepted from international students provided that they agree to cover the difference between UK/EU and overseas tuition fees.

Application procedure

Applications for the studentship can be completed online at https://www.abdn.ac.uk/pgap/login.php, noting clearly the name of the lead supervisor (Dr J.E.Schofield) and the project title (exactly as advertised) on the application form. Informal enquiries about the studentship are strongly encouraged in advance of making a full application. To make an enquiry, please send a copy of your cv and a short covering letter addressed to Dr Schofield at the following email address: j.e.schofield@abdn.ac.ukThe closing date for applications is 26 January 2018. Applications received after that date will not be considered.

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