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Rewilding trajectories: how important are the early years?

Would you like to earn a PhD doing research at the cutting edge of biodiversity, ecosystem services, environmental genomics and land-use change? We are looking for an enthusiastic, numerate student with a passion for ecology.

The UK has committed to ambitious targets for landscape management in coming decades, and evidence is needed to support ecological recovery by improving the sustainability of farming practices at large scales. However, a long history of intensive farming may have resulted in conditions that resist the rate of ecological succession. Soils and their biodiversity are likely to be critical to recovery, but we know very little about how to improve the success of restoration schemes.

This project will be at the forefront of research tracking the success of a major environmental stewardship scheme starting in the Lake District. We will use state-of-the-art modelling and field experiments to evaluate how soil conditions and dispersal limitation limit ecological recovery. To track soil health and understand how above- and below-ground networks interact, we will generate detailed information on soil microbes, fungi and invertebrates using DNA metabarcoding. The research will also take advantage of major existing datasets collected by national monitoring programs in England and Wales to evaluate the predictability of vegetation assembly.

The successful candidate will become a highly skilled interdisciplinary scientist at the applied interface of conservation policy and research, with a strong background in both field and genetic techniques. The project team include experts from Lancaster, Bangor and CEH to provide the student with the best support at internationally recognized labs. The parallel study of recovery of soils and vegetation, and how we expect restoration of former farming lands to contribute to the UK national environmental policy, will be at the forefront of our scientific understanding and eligible for many high impact journals.

Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in subjects such as Environmental or Natural Sciences and applicants with first class degrees and/or high quality Masters qualifications are particularly encouraged to apply. Training in statistics, DNA sequencing, and field ecology will be provided but familiarity with the R programming environment would be an advantage.

For enquiries, please consult Dr. Alex Bush in the first instance ( and I will answer any questions related to the project and/or life at Lancaster.