A Cheriton

Recognizing and Protecting the Aquatic-Terrestrial Biodiversity of Dynamic River Ecosystems

  • School: School of Science and Technology
  • Starting: 2019
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / Fully-funded


Temporary rivers, including England’s iconic chalk streams, experience natural transitions between lotic, lentic, and terrestrial conditions, with this instream habitat diversity supporting high biodiversity and broad ecosystem service provision. Despite a recent and ongoing increase in international research exploring temporary rivers, our understanding of how their ecological communities respond to environmental change remains limited. In addition, the dynamic nature of temporary rivers also poses a unique and pressing challenge for the effective assessment and enhancement of their ecological quality. This PhD represents an exciting opportunity to collaborate with leading researchers from academia and industry to address this challenge and to contribute to the rapidly expanding discipline of temporary river ecology. The project will contribute to national, EU-wide and global research seeking to improve characterization of temporary rivers and their biodiversity, and will inform wider initiatives to enhance their ecological quality.

The natural variability and consequent high biodiversity of temporary rivers is threatened by anthropogenic pressures. Water abstraction, physical habitat modification, and land use change have all altered ecosystem quality, but how instream communities respond to these interacting impacts remains poorly characterized. In particular, over-abstraction affects England’s chalk streams, with habitat modification exacerbating the ecological impacts of flow reductions. To address these threats, this project will examine temporary chalk stream community responses to anthropogenic stressors and natural intermittence, to inform development of biomonitoring programmes that characterize ecological quality and thus underpin management actions designed to enhance quality.

The PhD researcher will work with industry partners including the Environment Agency to develop an extensive field work programme that characterizes communities across temporary chalk streams of contrasting ecological quality. Aquatic and terrestrial biotas will be surveyed and sampled, to characterize spatiotemporal variability in community composition in relation to interacting natural and anthropogenic environmental drivers. This aquatic-terrestrial focus is globally innovative and will balance existing wet-phase research by also recognizing dry-phase communities. The data collected will be analysed to evaluate the ability of different communities to act as indicators of ecological quality, and it is expected that novel bioindicators will be identified. The results of field campaigns will also inform the development of a biomonitoring programme to assess the ecological quality of temporary chalk streams across wet and dry phases. Public engagement can underpin the success of initiatives designed to enhance ecosystem quality, and the project will therefore seek to engage citizen scientists in the long-term operation of this biomonitoring programme. The PhD researcher will work with industry partners including the Environment Agency to develop an extensive field work programme that characterizes communities across temporary chalk streams of contrasting ecological quality (including the Candover Brook, pictured above).

Project findings will contribute to the ongoing, international increase in temporary river research. Developing effective biomonitoring approaches for these dynamic ecosystems is a current national, EU-wide and international research priority. Outputs of this research are thus likely to have considerable academic and wider impact, and have high potential to inform biomonitoring programmes implemented in temporary rivers across and beyond the UK and Europe.

The PhD researcher’s skills profile will be enhanced by an extensive 3-year doctoral training programme encompassing discipline-specific and generic scientific skills. Specifically, you will be supported in developing a professional skills profile that encompasses proficiency in field and laboratory environments, advanced approaches to analyse complex ecological data, and scientific writing and publication. Funding is available to support your attendance of national meetings and international conferences, providing opportunities to disseminate project results and build a network of colleagues that supports your post-doctoral career development. As a member of the College of Science and Technology, you will belong to an active and diverse research community that spans our Schools of Science and Technology and of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences. Environment Agency co-supervision of the project will ensure your developing professional network encompasses both industry and academic scientists.


Dr Rachel Stubbington

Professor Rob Mortimer

Mr Tim Sykes

Entry qualifications

The successful candidate will hold a UK first-class or 2:1 BSc Hons (or NARIC equivalent) in ecology, environmental biology, physical geography, or a related discipline, plus research experience and/or a UK MSc or MRes with a minimum of a merit/commendation (or NARIC equivalent) in a relevant subject.

How to apply

How to apply

Applications close at 17.00 pm on Sunday 7 July 2019.

Download an application form here.
Please make sure you take a look at our application guidance notes before making your application.

Further information on how to apply can be found on this page.

Fees and funding

This studentship is open to applicants wishing to study for a PhD full-time, and is expected to start in October 2019. The studentship will pay UK/EU* fees (£4,370 for 2019/20 and revised annually) and provide a maintenance stipend linked to the UKRI rate (£15,009 for 2019/20 and revised annually) for up to three years.

Guidance and support

Further information on guidance and support can be found on this page.

Still need help?

Rachel Stubbington