Skip to content

Characterizing aquatic–terrestrial biodiversity to enable health assessments in dynamic river ecosystems S&T31

  • School: School of Science and Technology
  • Study mode(s): Full-time / Part-time
  • Starting: 2022
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Fully-funded


NTU's Fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme 2022

Project ID: S&T31

Temporary rivers—which naturally shift between wet and dry states—are already the world’s most common type of river ecosystem, and are increasing in extent due to climate change. Temporal changes in habitat availability support high aquatic–terrestrial biodiversity in temporary rivers. However, both their temporal variability and high spatial variability hampers characterization and protection of the biodiverse communities inhabiting these dynamic ecosystems. In particular, at local to global scales, how communities indicative of unimpacted ‘reference’ conditions differ from those in human-impacted temporary rivers remains unknown. England’s chalk streams are among the most ecologically rare habitats in the world—and although their crystal-clear perennial reaches are widely celebrated, chalk streams across England also have extensive, ecologically valuable temporary headwater reaches. We urgently need to better understand the communities inhabiting these ‘winterbournes’ and other temporary streams, to inform management strategies that protect biodiversity within ecosystems responding to global change.

The innovation of this project is to determine the shared characteristics of ecological communities that inhabit a breadth of streams within a temporary river type of high conservation interest: chalk winterbournes. We will conduct field campaigns in both wet and dry instream conditions, representing a globally unique opportunity to determine the contributions that both aquatic and terrestrial species make to the total biodiversity of temporary rivers. This project will generate data to test hypotheses describing the processes and pressures shaping biodiversity in temporary streams. A key conceptual challenge will be to redefine reference conditions using dynamic perspective that accommodates the spatiotemporal variability of temporary rivers. Doing so will enable the project’s core practical advance: to inform effective management actions that protect biodiversity within healthy temporary rivers.

Project findings will contribute to the ongoing, rapid international increase in temporary river research. Developing effective management approaches for these dynamic ecosystems is a national, EU-wide and international research priority. Using chalk winterbournes as a case study will allow this project to develop general principles that inform the development of approaches to assess the ecological health of a global breadth of temporary rivers. Co-supervision by Environment Agency colleagues will ensure project findings are applied to real-world ecosystem management. Our strong links with colleagues in the EU, USA and Australia will also enable wide sharing of project advances. Outputs of this research are thus likely to have considerable academic and wider impact, including high potential to inform temporary river management across and beyond the UK and Europe.

The supervisory team consists of Director of Studies Rachel Stubbington (NTU), Second Supervisor Andrew Hirst (NTU), External Supervisor Judy England (Environment Agency) and Tim Sykes (Environment Agency).

School strategic research priority

This cross-disciplinary project aligns with both the Ecology and Conservation research cluster within the School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences (ARES) Research Centre, and the Health of the Environment research group within the Centre for Health, Ageing and Understanding Disease (CHAUD) Research Centre in the School of Science and Technology

Entry qualifications

For the eligibility criteria, visit our studentship application page.

How to apply

For guidance and to make an application, please visit our studentship application page. The application deadline is Friday 14 January 2022.

Fees and funding

This is part of NTU's 2022 fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme.

Guidance and support

Download our full applicant guidance notes for more information.

Still need help?

+44 (0)115 941 8418