PhD Studentship: Long-term interactions between vegetation, fire and human impact in Guyana

PhD Studentship: Long-term interactions between vegetation, fire and human impact in Guyana

Applications are invited for a four year fully funded PhD in Tropical Palaeoecology within the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society.

The Project

The studentship will be based in the Department of Geography, RHUL and supervised by Dr. Daniele Colombaroli, Centre for Quaternary Research (CQR), Prof. Jay Mistry, Associate Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society and Prof. Sandy Harrison, Associate Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society and School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science (SAGES). It will be funded at £17,285 per annum including London allowance (rising in line with annual increments) with HEU fees paid for four years full-time equivalent. There will be support funding for fieldwork and conference attendance. The studentship is available from October 2020, or as soon as possible thereafter.

The successful applicant will join one of the UK’s strongest Geography Departments, ranked 2nd in the UK in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework and consistently ranked highly in the National Student Survey. The successful applicant will be a member of the Centre for Quaternary Research (CQR) Group, a world-leading international research centre in Quaternary science. This post is based in Egham Surrey where the College is situated in a beautiful, leafy campus near to Windsor Great Park and within commuting distance from London. The successful candidate will also spend periods working with fellow researchers at the Leverhulme Centre’s hub at Imperial College, London.

The Studentship

The history and diversification of S. American ecosystems result from complex interactions between climate, ecological processes and human impact. Yet, the lack of continuous and spatially-representative palaeoecological series in many tropical regions limit our understanding of the long-term processes driving tropical ecosystem dynamics, such as for the Holocene expansion of savannas and the role of pre-Columbian communities in shaping vegetation structure and composition.  This project will develop new high-resolution pollen and charcoal series in Guyana and integrate the long-term perspective with the available Indigenous knowledge on the use of fire in the region. The student will also contribute to global data collection effort and meta-analyses within the Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society, specifically by synthesising the limited number of existing available records from South America and applying new analytical approaches for disentangling fire-vegetation interactions.

The supervisors

Dr Daniele Colombaroli’s research interests are in biogeography, fire ecology and long-term ecology, including tropical palaeoecology and dendroecology. His research projects have examined species and community responses to climate variability, the role of fire in the Anthropocene, and the origin of cultural landscapes. His work is oriented towards the applications of long-term ecological data for forest management and biodiversity conservation.

Prof Mistry’s research lies in environmental management and governance, with a commitment to a social-ecological approach and working in collaboration with other academics, governments, civil society organisations and Indigenous communities. The central concept running through her work is that environmental management and governance should not be top-down implementation of external expertise, but must involve active local participation building upon local and Indigenous knowledges and practices. Her work converges environmental and social science methods, within a framework of participatory action research using participatory methods. She has long-term research collaborations with Indigenous communities in Guyana, Brazil and Venezuela.

Prof Sandy Harrison’s research focuses on the interaction of climate and the terrestrial biosphere, in the geologic past, the present and the future. She is a world-leader in the synthesis of palaeoenvironmental data in order to reconstruct past climate and environmental changes at continental to global scales. She uses large-scale data analysis in combination with climate and vegetation modelling to understand the mechanisms for past and present changes in climate, vegetation and fire.  

Leverhulme Centre for Wildfires, Environment and Society

The Centre was established in 2019 and is comprised of social and natural scientists from Imperial College, Kings College, Royal Holloway and University of Reading. The aim of the Centre is: to understand what factors govern wildfire regimes, including the sources, frequency, intensity, timing, and spatial pattern of fire; develop ways of predicting fire risks that include new biophysical understanding and account more reflexively for human-environment dynamics; quantify the impacts of fire on natural processes and human systems, including assessing their economic consequences and wider cultural meanings; and develop ideas for living with fire. The PhD student will therefore join a vibrant interdisciplinary research community with a joint 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 in Geography, Biology, Natural Sciences or an allied field. They will either have, or be working towards, a masters or equivalent in a relevant field of Quaternary Science or Paleoecology. They will have experience of fieldwork and laboratory work, with a focus on Palynology and other Palaeoecological approaches to reconstruct past environments. Experience in Tropical Palynology/Palaeoecology and writing to high standards is a surplus.

Applicants should submit:

i) A CV (max 2 sides) including details of two academic references.

ii) A cover letter outlining their qualifications, final degree and interest in the studentship (max 2 sides)

iii) A copy of transcripts

iv) Any other relevant material, such as co-authored peer-review publications.

These should be sent by email to by 31.07.2020. Interviews will take place in August.

Informal enquiries can be made to Daniele Colombaroli (, Jay Mistry ( or Sandy Harrison (

The College is committed to equality and diversity, and encourages applications from all sections of the community.