The Forest Edge – a new Doctoral Scholarship Programme


6-7 full-funded scholarships available to start October 2018

Register your interest by email to

We are looking for the brightest and most ambitious UK or EU graduates of any discipline to form the first cohort of a ground-breaking programme of research into forested landscapes. You must be keen to dive deep into your discipline while challenging yourself and your supervisors in a rigorously multi-disciplinary environment. Because we recognise the magnitude of this task, we have put an especially supportive system in place to help you (and your supervisors!) thrive.

Why put yourself to such a test? Forests directly support UN Sustainable Development Goals by providing stabilisation of soils, regional and global climate amelioration, and provision of clean and consistent water flows. Forests harbour over 75% of all species globally and absorb about one-third of the CO2 emitted by human activities. There is an urgent need to understand better how forests — especially mature, complex, and often peopled, forests — will respond to future conditions. Making the next critical steps forward in forest research requires in-depth knowledge on how forest ecosystems evolved, how they function currently, and how in-forest processes will interact with wider human social and cultural conditions. Graduates of the Forest Edge will be uniquely equipped to lead on forest research, stewardship, and governance through the middle of the twenty-first century.

What to do next. Look at the short description of the Forest Edge, below. Knowing what you do about any aspect of forests, where could the research you want to do fit in? The text is very dense, so your strongest link may be only a few words. Next, dip into the reading list to familiarise yourself with some current issues. Finally, browse the list of potential supervisors below, or search for others on the University website. Can you find a suitable supervisor? If it all seems to fit together, then please register your interest by sending a short email to We will get back in touch very shortly with details of the projects available this year.

Eligibility. The Leverhulme Trust has particular interest in supporting UK or EU students. We regret that candidates from outside the UK and EU are not eligible for support in this round of the Forest Edge, but encourage such candidates to get in touch with possible supervisors to discuss other routes to PhD study.

The Forest Edge

This Doctoral Scholarship Programme (DSP) will coalesce around a single Organising Principle: to determine to what extent

Forest existence, form, and function emerge from detailed interactions within and across scales, from molecules, to individual organisms, to communities and societies.

The Forest Edge DSP will comprise 3 themes, each providing a distinctive perspective on, and challenge to, our Organising Principle: 

  1. Values and meanings – How (historically, currently, and in the future) do the ways we value forests influence their form, function, and, indeed, their existence?
  2. Change drivers and resilience – Which ‘tipping points’ and ‘great leaps forward’ emerge from the adaptation of forests to changing environments? Can we design interventions to enhance forest resilience?
  3. Communication cascades – How does communication at molecular, ecological, and social scales determine the functioning of forests? To what extent can we safely alter communication within and across scales to promote beneficial outcomes?

Cutting across these themes are two further, cross-linking, perspectives:

  • Scales of space and time – How far must forests extend, and how long must they persist, to perform specific cultural, socio-economic, or ecological functions?  How can human and forest time and space scales be reconciled?
  • Complexity: how patterns emerge - Where and when do critical sites and situations appear in forests? How can models that embrace complexity enhance our understanding of ecosystem processes?

Each doctoral project will identify a major theme (A-C) and a dominant cross-link (I-II), binding it to other projects. Some projects will be multi-disciplinary, some interdisciplinary, and some transdisciplinary, but all will be outside the research council norm, challenging doctoral researchers (DRs) and supervisors alike.

Through monthly Exploration Meetings, we will bring together molecular biologists, ecohydrologists, resource economists, environmental philosophers, literary theorists, etc, not to task DRs with learning a bit of everything, but rather to extend science and scholarship into entirely new areas.

(a) DRs will engage critically with unfamiliar subjects without compromising their own expertise.

(b) Through such critical engagement, DRs (and supervisors) will uncover implicit assumptions in their own work, and identify topics for collaboration.

(c) By collaborating across disciplines, DRs will explore new intellectual ground.

Forest Edge will be facilitated by a portfolio of enabling technologies such as:

  • The BIFoR FACE facility to expose a mature oak woodland to elevated CO2 concentrations,
  • the BlueBear high performance computing resource for bioinformatics and modelling,
  • the cultural and horticultural resources of Winterbourne House and Garden,
  • paleontological resources in the Lapworth Museum of Geology,
  • State-of-the-science analytical tools in our environmental genomics and metabolomics laboratories,
  • the UoB digital Humanities hub, and
  • a map library covering the West Midlands back to 1610.

Potential Supervisors

The following list is not exclusive, but includes all those who have had input into the development of the Forest Edge programme.

  1. Michael Tausz is Professor of Forest Ecosystem Science at BIFoR. He has published over 140 journal articles and supervised 11 PhD students to completion (a further 4 currently studying). Michael’s expertise is in environmental plant physiology with special interests in biotic and abiotic stress and elevated CO2 research. From 2009-2016, he led the Australian Grains FACE program.
  2. Rob MacKenzie is inaugural director of BIFoR since 2013. He has 25 years’ research experience in biosphere-atmosphere interactions, over 90 peer-reviewed publications, and has graduated 11 PhD students (with a further 5 currently studying).
  3. Jon Sadler is a Professor of Biogeography with research interests on invertebrate woodland dynamics in urban and riparian systems, with new projects examining tropical deforestation in Indonesia. He has published of 120 peer-reviewed articles, has graduated 20 PhD students and has a current research lab comprising 3 postdoctoral researchers and 14 PhD students.
  4. Frank Uekotter is Reader in Environmental Humanities. Trained as a historian, he has 20 years’ experience working in interdisciplinary environments. He has 3 current Ph.D. students and 1 completed. He has published 6 monographs and more than 200 articles. He conceives of environmental humanities as an integrative discipline that seeks to use material flows and material problems as a bridge between the "two cultures".
  5. Louise Hardwick is Reader in Francophone Postcolonial studies and BIFOR Interdisciplinary Leadership Fellow for Ecocriticism. She has published 2 monographs, one edited book and one guest-edited journal.  As PI, she has led two major funding awards (AHRC Early Career Leadership Fellowship; Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship).  She is currently supervising 3 funded PhD students, with 3 incoming students. In 2016, she was selected as an EU ‘Pioneer into Practice’ through CLIMATE-KIC, blending theoretical training with a placement with the Small Woods Association, Ironbridge.
  6. Fiona Nunan specialises in the governance and livelihoods associated with renewable natural resources in developing countries, particularly in East Africa. She has written 18 academic journal articles and two books. She has supervised 7 PhD students to completion and is currently supervising 6 PhD students.
  7. David M. Hannah is Professor of Hydrology and Chair-holder for the UNESCO Chair in Water Sciences. He has > 20 years’ research experience in hydroclimatology and  ecohydroecology; >190 peer-reviewed publications and has graduated 23 PhD students (with a further 13 studying currently). He has worked on the role of forests in developing climate change adaptation strategies for the water sector.
  8. Stefan Krause is a Professor of Ecohydrology and Biogeochemistry specialising in multi-component reactive transport and exchange fluxes and at ecohydrological interfaces, developing distributed sensor network technologies and adaptive modelling approaches for analysing non-linear ecosystem behaviour. He has published > 70 peer-reviewed articles. He has graduated 4 PhD students and currently leads a research group of 4 Postdocs and 14 PhD students.
  9. David Maddison is Professor of Economics at the University of Birmingham, Director of the Birmingham Centre for Energy Environmental Economics and Management (BCEEEM) and chairman of the Government Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Economics Advisory Panel. He is co-editor of the journal Climate Change Economics (CCE) and an acknowledged expert in the fields of environmental, agricultural and natural resource economics. He has supervised 7 PhD students to completion with 2 more ongoing.
  10. Peter Kraftl is Professor of Human Geography. He has 15 years’ research experience in studying children’s geographies, with particular expertise on alternative and outdoor learning environments. He has over 50 peer-reviewed publications and has graduated 3 PhD students (with a further 9 currently studying).
  11. Zongbo Shi is a biogeochemist, who leads a group of 12 members working in the interface of atmospheric sciences and nutrient biogeochemistry, in which 10 are PhD students. He has published over 50 peer reviewed papers and held a NERC Fellowship from 2011-2016. He currently leads the integration of research activities across the NERC Air Pollution and Human Health programme (£12m).
  12. Francis Pope is a Birmingham Fellow in atmospheric science with a research focus on plant volatile organic compounds and bioaerosols (pollen, fungal spores, etc.).  He is the atmospheric lead at BIFoR. He has published over 40 peer reviewed papers, several book chapters and governmental reports (DEFRA and DfT). His group currently consists of 1 PDRA and 6 PhDs with 2 PhD students previously graduated. 
  13. Sabine Tausz-Posch is a lecturer in plant responses to environmental change with a special focus on physiological, biochemical and molecular tools to understand plant performance under increasing atmospheric CO2. She is the current supervisor of two PhD students and one MPhil student.
  14. Rebecca Bartlett is a lecturer in biogeochemistry specialising in nutrient cycle responses to environmental change. She is currently PI on a NERC grant to study controls on soil C export using novel tracers.
  15. Susannah Thorpe is a Senior Lecturer in the School of BioSciences, where she studies how animals (including humans) interact with complex habitats, such as trees, and the cognitive demands of complex locomotion.  She has 3 current PhD students, studying various aspects of ecomorphology, and has graduated 5 students. Her publications include first-author papers in Science and PNAS.
  16. Scott Hayward leads the insect molecular physiology group at Birmingham and has over 15 years research experience investigating insect responses to climate change and environmental stress.  He has supervised 6 PhDs to completion, with a further 5 currently studying.
  17. Chris Bradley is a hydrologist with interests on developing new approaches to modelling wetland and karst hydrology (10 completed PhDs; 3 current PhD students), Recent work includes the use of fluorescence spectroscopy on organic matter (OM) characterisation (Borneo), and development of in-situ OM monitoring.
  18. Nick Kettridge is an ecohydrologist specialising in characterising the resilience of ecosystems to natural and anthropogenic disturbance through the pioneering application of geophysical methods and electrical imaging. He is an editorial board member for Scientific Reports, regional chair for the British Hydrological Society, and supervisor of 6 PhD students, with two additional students supervised to completion.
  19. Jason Hilton is Reader (Associate Professor) in Palaeobiology with 20 years of research experience in palaeobotany and evolutionary plant biology. He has published 100 papers including key works on plant anatomy, morphology, phylogeny and evolution as well as plant response to environmental change in deep time, and has graduated 6 Phd students.
  20. Steven Emery is an environmental social scientist specialising in the relationship between culture, environmental governance and behaviours.  He has published 16 academic papers across multiple disciplines and written policy reports on behalf of the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).  He currently supervises four PhD students with a further one student supervised to completion.
  21. Anne Van Loon is a hydrologist working on drought and coastal ecosystems. She is PI on an interdisciplinary project on building resilience to future drought in Africa and is leading the IAHS Panta Rhei working group on Drought in the Anthropocene. Anne supervises 3 PhD students and two postdoctoral researchers.
  22. Thomas A. M. Pugh specialises in interactions between terrestrial ecosystems and the wider environment, with an especial focus on understanding the global carbon cycle, including extensive use of Dynamic Global Vegetation Models. He holds a dual affiliation at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, a major development group of the LPJ-GUESS ecosystem model, where he supervises one PhD student.
  23. Paul Thompson, senior lecturer in the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics and Deputy Director of the Centre for Corpus Research. Employs corpus approaches to specialised discourses, and was PI on ESRC funded project that examined interdisciplinary research discourse in environmental science journals, 2013-2015. Has supervised 16 students to completion, is currently supervising 13 students with 5 due to complete in the coming months. 
  24. Reg Cline Cole from the Department of African Studies and Anthropology who works on ‘indigenous ecological knowledges, with particular reference to vegetation resources; the implications of environmental policy for access and rights to, and utilisation of soil, water and vegetation resources; woody biomass assessment and mapping; and the construction and deployment of landscape imaginaries.’
  25. Wouter Peeters is an early-career lecturer in Global Ethics in the Centre for the Study of Global Ethics (since 2016). His main research interests include global justice, the ethics and politics of climate change, and the ethics of strategies to reduce humanity’s environmental impact. He has published 8 articles, a book and 7 book chapters.
  26. Jeremy Kidwell is a lecturer in theological ethics. His research blends constructive reflection in environmental ethics with more grounded ethnographic inquiries. In particular his current research involves an anthropological study into the way that “spiritual landscapes” play a part in the landscape encounter of scientists involved in conservation / restoration work and members of the (especially urban) public designing and interacting with greenspace. He is a founding member of the Edinburgh environmental humanities network and on the board of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland.
  27. Norman Dandy is an environmental social scientist and project leader at the Plunkett Foundation, and an Associate of the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research. He has published 19 peer-reviewed journal articles and more than 30 reports for government bodies. His expertise is in adaptive and collaborative approaches to forest management, and the human dimensions of forest resilience and forest wildlife management. Norman is an Associate Editor for Environmental Values journal.
  28. James Bendle is a Reader in Organic Geochemistry whose research focuses on the development and application of biomarker proxies for environmental conditions in ancient and modern environments. He is the Director of the NERC CENTA DTP.
  29. Mark Viant is a Professor of Metabolomics in the School of Biosciences and Director of the national NERC Biomolecular Analysis Facility for environmental metabolomics. His research programme and interests encompass the development of optimised methods for metabolomics and the application of these technologies to investigate the metabolic pathways underlying environmental stress. He has co-authored >160 papers, supervised 17 PhD students to completion and is currently supervising 4 PhD students.
  30. Andrew Quinn is Senior Lecturer in Atmospheric Science and Engineering with research focus on the interactions between infrastructure and extreme weather events/climate change and how these impact service and community resilience. Investigator on projects for EPSRC, BBSRC, NERC, defra, DfT, EU and industry funded work across disciplines of engineering, climatology, meteorology, animal welfare, atmospheric pollution and societal impacts. He has published 50 peer reviewed papers.
  31. Rosemary Dyson is Senior Lecturer in Applied Mathematics.  Her research interests are in applying mathematical modelling techniques to biological problems, in particular those involving plant sciences, an interest initiated as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the interdisciplinary Centre for Plant Integrative Biology.  She has supervised 4 PhD students to completion, with 5 currently studying including a current BIFoR student.
  32. James Bentley (Ben) Brown is co-founder of the UoB Centre for Computational Biology and also heads the Department of Molecular Ecosystems Biology at US LBNL. His publications receive >11,000 citations. His group uses statistical machine learning to analyse and understand complex multi-omics biological data. Current major projects include the Microbes to Biomes Initiative (, EcoFab (, the ENCODE and the Environment Care Consortia.
  33. Prof. Joe Wood leads the Catalysis and Reaction Engineering research group in the School of Chemical Engineering. He has published 86 refereed research articles covering a range of topics in catalysis, catalytic reactor operation and environmental engineering.  Application areas range from catalytic hydrogenation to upgrading of bio-oil, valorisation of chemicals from bio-oil, bioenergy, upgrading of fossil derived oils and carbon capture from power plants. He has supervised a total of ~30 PhD students, including the current group of ~8.
  34. Athanasios Tsolakis is a Professor of Thermodynamics with research interests on environmental catalysts and low or carbon free energy carriers. He has published 119 peer-reviewed articles, has graduated 26 PhD students, and has a current research team comprising 3 postdoctoral researchers and 9 PhD students.
  35. Iain G. Johnston is a Birmingham Fellow in the School of BioSciences. His research uses mathematical modelling, simulation, and tools from statistics and data science to build quantitative and predictive descriptions of the biological world.
  36. David Smith is a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Archaeology in the School of Classics, Ancient History, and Archaeology. His main research interests concern the interpretation of insect remains from the archaeological record. He uses insect remains to investigate landscape and land-use change.

A Forest Edge reading list