PhD Studentship: CO2 impacts on past and future fire regimes and their consequences for biodiversity

PhD Studentship: CO2 impacts on past and future fire regimes and their consequences for biodiversity

Project Description

Much of the discussion of the drivers of recent changes in fire regimes has focused on the impact of climate change and anthropogenic activities. However, the direct impacts of changing atmospheric CO2 on plant growth and water-use efficiency could also affect biomass production and hence fuel loads, and therefore influence future fire regimes. The record of changes in fire regimes during intervals of low CO2 in the past provides an opportunity to separate the influence of climate and CO2 on fire regimes, and to test the predictions of fire-enabled dynamic vegetation models about this interplay. This project focuses on the analysis of fire regimes during rapid climate warmings during the last glacial epoch (Dansgaard-Oeschger events) and examines the consequence for biodiversity by comparing these with independent reconstructions of vegetation cover. The findings are applied to assess the likely impact of increasing CO2 for future fire regimes and biodiversity. The project involves analysis of existing palaeoenvironmental databases and fire modelling. The findings of this PhD will contribute to the advancement of a wider model of human-climate-fire interaction being developed by the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society.

Studentship Overview

The studentship will be supervised by Prof. Colin Prentice at Imperial College London and co-supervised by Prof. Sandy Harrison at  the University of Reading.  Prof Prentice’s research focuses on understanding how plants react to and interact with changes in climate and other aspects of the physical environment. Prof. Harrison’s research focuses on global palaeoclimates and biogeochemical cycles.

The student will be based within the Department of Life Sciences based at Imperial’s Silwood Park campus. The Department is one of the largest life science groups in Europe, with approximately 100+ academic staff, 180 research fellows and post-doctoral researchers, 200+ PhD students and 180+ Masters students. The student will also join a vibrant interdisciplinary research community in the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society, which includes staff and PhD students from Imperial College London, King’s College London, the University of Reading and Royal Holloway, University of London, with a common vision of producing evidence-based understanding of the human-fire nexus that can help inform policy and practice.

How to apply

The applicant will have a good undergraduate degree (min 2.1) in environmental sciences or an allied field. They will either have, or be working towards, a Masters degree or equivalent in a relevant field. The successful candidate will preferably have good quantitative skills and programming experience. They will have experience of writing to a high standard, and a willingness to work in interdisciplinary teams.

Applicants should submit:
i) A CV (max 2 A4 sides), including details of two academic references;
ii) A cover letter outlining their qualifications and interest in the studentship (max 2 A4 sides)

These should be sent by email to by 31st March 2020 with “Leverhulme PhD” as the subject. Interviews will take place in April 2020.

For further information on the project, please contact

Funding Notes

The student will be half funded by the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society and half through the NERC Centre for Doctoral Training in Quantitative and Modelling Skills in Ecology and Evolution (QMEE). NERC-funded studentships are subject to UKRI eligibility requirements, which are outlined under “Student eligibility” in the “Training Grant Guide” available on the UKRI website. In short, you should be a citizen of the UK or other EU country and have been residing in the UK for the last 3 years (apart from temporary or occasional absences).

The studentship will be funded at £17,009 stipend per annum (including London allowance) paid for 3.5 years. The studentship will also cover HEU fees for three years, and writing-up fees for the final half year. There will be support funding for research activities and conference attendance. The studentship will start as soon as possible. Please state your start date availability within your application.