We currently have 3 fully-funded PhD positions - please scroll down to view each one

Fully funded PhD studentship 1 (of 3)

The Environment Department at the University of York invites applications for a PhD studentship funded by the ESRC White Rose Doctoral Training Centre to start in October 2016.

Deadline for applications is 5 March 2016 at 12 noon. See selection criteria and further details at the end of this summary.

Title: Investigating wins, loss and trade-offs for biodiversity and human well-being across protected area networks

Donor: White Rose Doctoral Training Committee ESRC Network on “Innovative approaches to understanding new forms of conservation governance for social and environmental benefits”

Principal Supervisor: Andrew Marshall, Environment Department, University of York.

Co-Supervisors: Susannah Sallu, Sustainability Research Institute, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, and Chasca Twyman, School of Geography, Sheffield University.


Despite significant research on the impacts of protected areas (PAs) on people and biodiversity globally, the distribution of co-benefits remains uncertain, particularly in high biodiversity and high poverty regions. In particular, tropical forest conservation has seen a huge diversity of approaches for conserving and managing PAs, ranging from National Parks to Community Forests. The implications for people and biodiversity are equally diverse, but rarely quantified simultaneously or across PA types. A dynamic and complex combination of wins, losses and trade-offs for biodiversity and human wellbeing are inevitable and hence methods are required that are both diverse and sensiotive. With recent research focussing on the search for win-wins, insufficient attention has been given to understanding losses and trade-offs. Working with conservation organisations to develop more robust ways to develop understanding and ways of monitoring such wins, losses, and trade-offs for across complex networks of PAs is an important step forward.

OBJECTIVES: In collaboration with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Udzungwa Forest Project (UFP), and PA managers in Tanzania, this project aims to develop and apply a novel interdisciplinary research framework to improve understanding of the distribution of the wins, losses and trade-offs for biodiversity and human well-being across a PA network.

1.            Review the state of the art in terms of measuring/monitoring human wellbeing and assessing protected area impact.

2.            Develop a novel framework which combines social and ecological approaches to investigate the distribution of wins, losses and trade-offs for biodiversity and human well-being across a PA network.

3.            Apply and evaluate the framework and tools within and across a protected area network to:

a.            Characterise wins, losses and trade-offs for biodiversity and human well-being within and across the PA network

b.            Analyse distribution of wins, losses and trade-offs and their interactions

c.             Evaluate the societal and ecological consequences of a. and b.     

Southern Tanzania is chosen as a model system to apply the framework. The region’s PA network includes National Parks, Game Reserves, Wildlife Management Areas, National Forest Reserves, and Village Forest Reserves. In 2010 the region was designated as a National Agricultural Growth Corridor. Trade-offs between economic growth and biodiversity conservation are increasingly contentious. This region is a priority region of AWF and UFP, and the lead supervisor has worked here for 18 years. AWF and UFP will be involved in the development, implementation and dissemination of findings of this project, with the aim of generating impact for conservation practice and policy.

The multi-method framework will draw on secondary and primary data, including data collation, village questionnaire surveys, and literature review. Remote sensing of secondary forest habitat data (past and recent) and forest ecological survey will also assist in the measurement of ecosystem quality. Two phases of empirical field data collection will be needed totalling 9 months.

Student training will be available in research skills, advanced qualitative and quantitative methods, geographic information systems and other optional M.Sc. degree modules in the parent departments. The student is also likely to benefit from Swahili language training. 

About the new ESRC Network

This is part of a network comprising three studentships, seven supervisors from Leeds, Sheffield and York and staff from three partner NGOs, which will use new approaches and methodologies to explore how different forms of conservation governance produce different kinds of social and environmental impacts, and what policies work best, for whom and where. The network directly responds to recent calls for more systematic and rigorous evaluation of the link between different forms of conservation governance and their negative or the positive impacts on the environment and human well-being, and calls for future impact evaluations to be based on clear, multidisciplinary theories-of-change that use both qualitative and quantitative approaches, making best use of existing data sets. It provides partners with new ways of looking at longstanding problems within their areas of conservation, which can readily be made available in policy-relevant forms. The research students will be able to take full advantage of the unique strengths in conservation governance research across the three universities, and in the partner organisations. Each university has established research clusters around these issues, offering unique academic environments and training opportunities. The links to outside organisations goes beyond the project partners and into other global organisations working on these organisations. The research students would be ideally placed to lead a new generation of research and practice in conservation. 

Selection criteria

Existing expertise is obviously a plus, especially relevant field and analytical skills, and experience of international travel, preferably in a developing country. The project is open to students with at least a 2i degree (and ideally a Masters) in Sociology, Geography, or the natural sciences, and interests in biodiversity conservation and/or international development. For informal discussion please contact the main supervisor ( 

Further information

More information, including eligibility and application details

Fully funded PhD studentship 2

The Environment Department at the University of York invites applications for a PhD studentship funded by the ESRC White Rose Doctoral Training Centre to start in October 2016. 

Title:Socio-ecological system services for rural livelihoods and adaptation.

Principal Supervisor Dr Rob Marchant, Co-Supervisors Dr Chasca Twyman and Dr Jon Ensor 


This PhD position is part of a White Rose Network entitled Social Science of Agri-Food System Sustainability. In addressing the urgent need to build resilient food supply chains that are socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable, a systems approach calls on us to think, for example, about the globally interlinked nature of local production, consumption, and waste (e.g. through markets and trade); the dependency and impacts of food provision on changing ecological and climatic systems and services; and the role and movement of knowledge, information and values across nodes of decision making at a variety of scales. Three research projects have been designed to study the interlinked nature of supply chains, rural livelihoods, and socio-ecological interactions and will work through partnership with the CGIAR Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) that targets the building of climate resilient and smart systems. This partnership further offers the opportunity for impactful research and the prospect that these studies might become the basis for future activity within the CCAFS programme.

Climate variability and change, population increase, and agricultural intensification represent significant pressures on productive and ecologically valuable land in East Africa. Montane forests support high densities of populations and agricultural production, e.g. 1000 people per km2 in the Chagga home-gardens of Kilimanjaro. Such Multifunctional Agricultural Landscape Mosaics (MALM) support high levels of biodiversity while also underpinning local livelihoods and regional food security. In addition to provisioning services, there is an important role for montane forest in the regulation for water, carbon, soil productivity, pollination and pest control. Hence, MALM can provide an agricultural land use matrix in which all critical aspects of sustainability (ecological, social, economic, political and cultural) are incorporated. In a context of unprecedented climatic change and social pressure on ecosystems, how the ecosystem services of these MALM systems are best distributed and managed for the multifaceted purposes of climate change adaptation and socio-economic sustainability is a complex and challenging question. Improved understanding of MALM system dynamics and responses to environmental change could underpin informed community-based management, policy, and interventions that enhance integrated water and land management processes, and improve agro-ecosystems function and productivity. But, it is increasingly recognised that successful management of natural resources and adaptation to change within such complex systems depends too on processes for knowledge sharing and coproduction, the potential for which is shaped by social, cultural and political relations between diverse stakeholders. The PhD will combine the local and experiential knowledge of residents and land managers with the techniques and tools of socio-ecological system mapping to inform management. Critical reflection on social dynamics and incomplete knowledge politics will be essential for achieving just outcomes within such a management tool. Additional logistical support for fieldwork conducted in Taita will be provided through affiliation to the Terra research station located at Wyundani in the Taita Hills run by research collaborators at the University of Helsinki.

Key project objectives

  • To assess the interrelated functions and services of MALM in the Taita Hills of southern Kenya by mapping, through participatory GIS, the agricultural land use matrix.
  • To evaluate nature-based adaptation practices (afforestation, conservation agriculture, irrigation and water management, and integrated pest management) against projected future change and locally prioritized needs (e.g. for achieving food security, providing livelihood opportunities, maintaining biodiversity, and fulfilling cultural, aesthetic, conservation and recreational needs).
  • To critically reflect on the way that politics and social dynamics play out within this process of knowledge generation and management

Selection criteria: The project is open to applicants with at least a 2i degree (and ideally a Masters) in Development Studies, Sociology, Anthropology, Geography, or the Environmental sciences.  Interests in rural development and/or international development would be an advantage although full support and training to conduct this ambitious project will be provided. Existing expertise is obviously a plus, especially relevant field and analytical skills.  For further information on the project or an informal discussion please contact the main supervisor (


Further information including eligibility and application details, is available here: 

Deadline for applications: 12 noon, 5th March 2016

Interviews are scheduled for the 16th March 2016 (1-3PM) in the Environment Department, University of York.

Fully funded PhD position 3

Extreme weather, flooding and food security – can earthworms save the planet? 


Professor Mark Hodson, Environment Department, University of York (

Dr Xiaohui Chen, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Leeds (

Most current environmental change scenarios predict increases in the frequency of extreme weather events such as flooding. It is also widely known that earthworm burrows play an important role in aiding drainage of water through soils thereby reducing flood risk. However, large scale earthworm deaths are often recorded following flooding; earthworms can survive in water by absorbing oxygen through their skin, but over time oxygen levels drop in flooded soils and the earthworms suffocate. Once the flood waters recede earthworm populations recover due to migration of earthworms from unflooded areas and also the hatching of resilient earthworm cocoons the following season. We can increase populations of earthworms in fields by adding organic matter to the soil, for example sewage sludge or farmyard manure. However, it is likely that if these fields flood, oxidation of the organic matter will use up the oxygen in the water more quickly, reducing the length of time that earthworms can survive in the flooded soils. We currently do not know:

  1. What are the threshold oxygen levels in water below which earthworms suffocate
  2. How resilient are earthworm cocoons to oxygen deficiency
  3. Will earthworm / cocoon sub-optimal oxygen concentrations be reached in soils more rapidly if the soils have been amended with a readily oxidisable carbon source in the form of sewage sludge
  4. The impact that decreases in earthworm populations have on both the water storage capacity of soil and the rate of water drainage through that soil

It is crucial to know whether the combination of increased flooding and the spreading of sewage sludge on land will lead to a positive feedback in which 1) more flooding due to extreme weather results in 2) increased levels of oxygen depletion in soils due to sludge amendments  resulting in 3) increasing depletions in earthworm populations leading to 4) increased flooding due to loss of earthworm burrows that serve as important conduits for water draining through soil.

In this project you will:

  1. Determine threshold oxygen levels in soils for the survival and viability of earthworms and earthworm cocoons
  2. Determine the influence of different densities of different earthworm ecotypes on soil drainage rates (there are three different ecotypes: surface dwellers, sub-surface soil dwellers and those that live in semi-permanent vertical burrows, the latter being the most likely to impact on drainage)
  3. Incorporate the chemical and physical measurements into an existing earthworm individual based model to model flooding scenarios. 

Meeting these objectives will allow us to answer the questions outlined above and model the likely consequences of extreme weather events and different land management scenarios on earthworm populations.

Resource and facilities available

You will be based in the Environment department at York which is located in a new £12.5 M state-of-the-art building that contains a full range of environmental chambers that can be used to run experiments in which the influence of earthworm activity and burrows on water drainage rates can be investigated. Soil laboratories are available for the full chemical and physical characterisation of soils. In addition the Leeds University farm provides the opportunity for access to land to carry out field-based flooding and drainage experiments. In Civil Engineering (Leeds) there are excellent facilities for physical and geochemical analysis of soils. Experimental approaches include model experiments in the iPHEE labs, and sample analysis using wet chemistry and advanced techniques such as FT-IR spectroscopy, elemental analysis (CHNS-O) and electron microscopy. Soil porosity and permeability will be tested in the Geotechnical Engineering Lab in Leeds.

Training provision for student

You will be based in York and will follow the same doctoral training programme as the York-based Liverpool-Sheffield-York-CEH NERC funded ACCE DTP. In addition a tailor-made training plan will be assembled, based on your existing skills, and your training and development needs, to enable you to fulfil your role in the project and to equip you for a research career beyond the project lifetime. In addition to this training programme you will benefit from cross disciplinary postgraduate training in earthworm cultivation, characterisation of soil and anaerobic experiments, measuring oxygen saturation, unsaturated zone hydrology and permeability measurements, and modelling. 

This studentship is one of three linked studentships that form part of the Sustainable Agriculture: BIOchemical-physical-biological function of Sludge in Agriculture Soils (BIOSAS) programme funded by the White Rose Studentship Network. The other two studentships, based in Sheffield and Leeds respectively focus on “Effects of sludge-rainfall interactions on soil quality and crop production” and “Microbiological and geochemical response of sludge amended soils to extreme weather “. This network will provide the opportunity to understand the broader context of the individual projects and promote applications of this work. The network will meet frequently to allow cross-fertilisation of ideas between the individual projects. 

Keywords: invertebrate biology, earthworms, agricultural sciences, soil science, ecology and conservation, geography, environmental science, hydrogeology, environmental modelling,
behavioural ecology, invertebrate biology, biodiversity, molecular ecology

Funding Notes

This three year studentship will be fully funded at Home/EU or international rates. All tuition fees will be paid together with an annual tax-free stipend at the standard RCUK rate (£14296 for 2016/17, to be confirmed for future years but typically increases annually in line with inflation) and research costs. Applicants should hold at least an upper second UK honours degree or equivalent. Applications should be received and complete by Monday 7th March 2016. 


Professor Mark Hodson:

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