Forest Edge Doctoral Scholarship Programme


Forest Edge 2


The Forest Edge Doctoral Scholarships programme will offer up to 20 Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarships at the University of Birmingham from 2018 - 2021. It will act as a bridge between Birmingham-led CENTA2 and the ENVISION DTP, providing coherent doctoral training for forest science in the UK for the first time. The first cohort of students commenced in October 2018.  Projects involving joint supervision across schools or colleges are encouraged.  This Doctoral Scholarship Programme (DSP) will coalesce around our 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".

Projects align with the following themes:

A.  Values and meanings    B.  Change drivers and resilience   C.  Communication cascades 

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

i. Scales of space and time   ii. Complexity

Meet the Leverhulme Forest Edge Doctoral students 

"It's been interesting coming together as the Forest Edge cohort to learn about such diverse approaches to research on forested landscapes. We are able to share knowledge from across the social and physical sciences and are challenged to explain our research to each other in understandable and straightforward ways."

 *Denotes these students are completing their research at the BIFoR FACE facility 

Cohort 1 (commenced 2018) 

Ben Howard:
Supervisors: Prof Stefan Krause, Dr Nick Kettridge, Dr Sami Ullah and Ian Baker (Small Woods Association)
Year of study: Third
PhD: Coppice management to reduce nutrient loads in forest streams
Further information: Poster 2021

Polly Jarman:
Supervisors: Prof Peter Kraftl and Dr Sophie Hadfield-Hill
Year of study: Third 
PhD: Young people’s experiences of and learning in urban woodlands. 
Further information: Poster

Jenny Knight:
Supervisors: Dr Steve Emery and Dr Simon Dixon
Year of study: Third 
PhD: Exploring the desirability of forest landscapes in a natural flood management context.
Further information: Poster

*Bridget Warren:
Supervisors: Dr James Bendle 
Year of study: Third 
PhD: Development and application of novel ecological and environmental proxies based leaf wax lipids.
Further information: Poster 2021  Video 

Eszter Toth: 
Supervisors: Dr Ali Mazaheri and Dr Jane Raymond
Year of study: Third
PhD: Focus on Cognition: Can forests balance the brain? 
Further information: Poster 

Cohort 2 (commenced 2019)

Bradly Deeley:
Dr Natalia Petrovskaya and Dr Rosemary Dyson
Year of study: 
Biological invasion of plant species poses a major threat both to the ecosystem and the economy. My research involves developing a mathematical and computational model of biological invasion, to predict how invasive plants will be spreading when the landscape conditions in the forest are changed by building a road. The main hypothesis I investigate is that roads provide an ideal environment for invasive species to spread.  
Further information: 
Poster 2021

*Nine Douwes Dekker:
Vincent Gauci, Rob MacKenzie, E Pendall (Western Sydney), Sami Ullah, and Sirwan Yamulki (Forest Research)
Year of study: 
“I will look at the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from soil and unravel the role of the soil microbial community.  The GHGs considered are primarily methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). We hypothesise that thresholds of soil water, nitrogen and carbon contents will determine the net fluxes of GHGs, and that the spatio-temporal dynamics of hydrological conditions will play a key role in predicting the ultimate global warming potential of forests with climate change.” 
Further information: 
Poster 2021 

Maria Teresa González: 
Supervisors: Prof David Maddison, Dr Allan Beltran Hernandez 
Year of study: Second
PhD: Forests are a terrestrial carbon sink, a home to biodiversity, provide clean air etc. Forest fires threaten these ecosystem services and also pose physical danger to households located on the vicinity. The high and increasing economic costs of forest fires can be reduced if we have a better understanding on the factors shaping the perceived risk of households. By using satellite and house price data our research will identify the size and persistence of the impact of pure information effect on the perception of forest fire risk.Forests are a terrestrial carbon sink, a home to biodiversity, provide clean air etc. Forest fires threaten these ecosystem services and also pose physical danger to households located on the vicinity. The high and increasing economic costs of forest fires can be reduced if we have a better understanding on the factors shaping the perceived risk of households. By using satellite and house price data our research will identify the size and persistence of the impact of pure information effect on the perception of forest fire risk.
Further information: Poster 2021 

*Laura James:
Dr Christian Pfrang, Dr R Girling (Reading) and Prof Rob MacKenzie 
Year of study: Second
Trees function as highly sensitive and responsive communication hubs within ecosystems; transmitting, receiving and responding to critical information from the environment, often by means of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). “I will be exploring the potential effects of elevated CO2 and pollutants, such as ground-level ozone (O3), on the chemical communication between trees and other organisms, by examining qualitative and quantitative changes to VOCs released by trees.”
Further information: Poster 2021  Video 

Cohort 3 (commenced 2020) 

Harriet Croome:
Supervisors: Brock Bersaglio (International Development Department (IDD)), Fiona Nunan (IDD)
PhD draft title: Investigating how changing interactions between humans and elephants affect forest socio-ecological systems in drylands. 
PhD: As dryland forests are made venues for wildlife conservation, interactions between human and nonhuman forest users can change. Focusing on interactions between Maasai pastoralists and African elephants in Laikipia, Kenya, my project aims to understand how elephant behaviours have changed with wildlife conservation initiatives in Mukogodo Forest and what affect these changes have had on FSES. By relying on the experiences, observations, and understandings of Maasai pastoralists who embody generations of knowledge about Mukogodo Forest, this project will provide insights into how changing human-nonhuman interactions associated with wildlife conservation initiatives in FSES can affect the material and ontological existence of dryland forests.
Further informationPoster 2021  

Dion Dobrzynski:
John Holmes (English), Jon Sadler (Geography Earth and Environmental Science (GEES))
PhD draft title: Forest Ecology in Fantasy Fiction: Mobilising the Imaginative Resources of Fantasy Fiction for Living with Forests 
PhD: This project explores the various representations of forest ecology in the fantasy fiction of William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula K. Le Guin. In collaboration with Ruskin Land, situated in Wyre Forest, this project will experiment in combining literary ecocritical and social science methodologies in order to investigate the ways in which fantasy fiction might intellectually, emotionally, and ethically engage the public in real forests.
Further informationPoster 2021  and Video 

Jordan Johnston:
Supervisors: Seb Watt (GEES), Tom Pugh (GEES), Tom Matthews (GEES), Susanna Ebmeier (Leeds) 
PhD draft title: Forest resilience and recovery through the lens of volcanic disturbances.
PhD: With many of the world’s forests under the threat of ecological catastrophe in the wake of anthropogenic agents of change, there is a need now more than ever to understand how forest ecosystems react and recover in the wake of a destructive event. The eruption of Chaitén (Chile) in 2008 and subsequent destruction of neighbouring forest is an opportunity to study how forests re-establish in the wake of disturbance. The work of this project aims to (i) establish primary succession dynamics in this particular ecosystem, (ii) determine if this re-growth is stochastic (random) or deterministic (controlled spatially in some way), and (iii) ascertain the implications of these findings on the wider context of forest recovery in the wake of disturbance.
Further informationPoster 2021 

Thomas Kaye: 
Supervisors: Alexandra Harris (English), Matthew Ward (English)
PhD draft title: Reading the Grain: The Patterns of Wood Rewilding Contemporary Prose and Poetry.  
PhD: This project explores how contemporary writers engage with scientific discourse and forest history to re-imagine our relationship with trees, woodlands, and forests. By analysing the major works, Barkskins by Annie Proulx, and The Overstory by Richard Powers – in conjunction with feminist revisions of the typical wilderness narrative, and poetry – Reading the Grain will investigate how the patterns of wood found in imbricated tree-metaphors, woodcraft/wood-economy, and expansive timescales effect an imaginative, literary rewilding. This project will also address how these various re-imaginings trace the often-imperceptible effects of shifting baseline syndrome through their challenging of what one might perceive as ‘natural’. 
Further informationPoster 2021 and video 

*Mark Raw:
Supervisors: Estrella Luna Diez (Bio), Scott Hayward (Bio) 
PhD draft title: Priming of defence in an elevated CO2 world
PhD: Priming of defence in an elevated CO2 world  - Rising CO2  levels are a reality of our current world, however the impact of this on plant species is still little understood. Elevated CO2 is believed to result in increased growth in some species however there are reports that elevated levels could negatively impact on plant defence making them more susceptible to pests & diseases. This project aims to understand how elevated CO2 will impact oak defence priming in both juvenile & mature oak trees against the oak pathogen powdery mildew & insect herbivores. This knowledge will allow humans to better assess risks to future forests & allow for better protection of these vital organisms.
Further information: Poster 2021 

Bruno Santos: 
Supervisors: Professor Philip Davies; Dr. Joshua Larsen 
Year of study: Second 
Further informationPoster 2021  The experiment being developed consists in a constructed woody wetland where willows will be used, investigating the role of this system on wastewater treatment, biomass production and methane emissions.  Trees can act in a different way from other most used plants in treatment wetlands (for example, macrophytes), since they can remove great amounts of organic matter, Nitrogen, Phosphorus and sequester more carbon that will be imprisoned in their trunks. To minimize CH4 emissions while achieving good nutrient removal, different flow rates will be applied in 6 flumes: steady and intermittent flow; with the last one varying its days of flooded and dry periods. The experiment will start running this spring at the ECOLaboratory. 

*Klaske van Wijngaarden: 
Supervisors: Tom Pugh (GEES), Josh Larsen (GEES), Ben Smith (Western Sydney University (WSU)) Belinda Medlyn (WSU)
PhD draft title: From branch to forest to globe: How do trees choices regarding growth affect forest responses to increased carbon dioxide levels? 
PhD: I will look at the woody carbon dynamics of the trees at the BIFoR FACE and eucFACE experiments. A better understanding of the fate of carbon through increased photosynthetic activity and more insight in the response of complete forest stands to elevated CO2 levels will help increase the accuracy of future carbon budget models. This project will explore the use fieldwork data of different woody compartments to determine turnover rate and chemical composition changes in two different ecosystems exposed to elevated CO2 levels.
Further informationPoster 2021 

Cohort 4 (commenced 2021) 

^denotes this student is funded through the Leverhulme Trust Forest Edge Doctoral Scholarship 

^Gemma Baker: 
Supervisors: Sarah Greene (GEES), James Bendle (GEES), Lydia Greene (Duke Lemur Centre, Duke University)
Year of Study: First
PhD Draft Title: Life on the edge: New tools to track animal-forest trophic interaction across intact to degraded ecosystems
Info: Madagascar is a haven of floral and faunal endemism, with lemurs at the centre of engineering and maintaining the diverse and varied forest habitats the island comprises. There is no such thing as a healthy Malagasy forest without the endemic lemur communities. Forest degradation and loss of lemur communities form a destructive positive feedback loop, causing the loss of large fruiting trees and a shift in forest composition to smaller faster-growing trees less efficient at carbon sequestration. Forest health and function can be monitored through the tracking of changes in the diets of inhabitant lemurs, especially in edge habitats where they are forced to adapt to ongoing changes in resources as a result of degradation. This project aims to use biomarkers, tools used primarily in organic geochemistry for palaeoclimate reconstruction, to investigate the diets of lemurs from faeces, with the aim of developing these techniques to be applied to wild lemurs in the future to monitor forestry changes and forest-lemur interactions.

^Kieran Clark:
Supervisors: Pola Goldberg Oppenheimer (Chem Eng), Estrella Luna Diez (Bio)
Year of Study: First
PhD Draft Title: Study and Fabrication of Rapid Engineered Spectroscopic Technology (FoRESTech) for Identification of Filamentous Pathogens in Leaves
PhD: Ash dieback and oak powdery mildew are devastating pathogens, especially for young trees, and there are currently insufficient techniques to diagnose these infections in the early stages. My project aims to use the non-destructive, versatile analytical technique called Raman spectroscopy to probe the biomolecular changes that occur in the wax and cuticle layers of the leaves of Ash and Oak trees during the course of these infections. The primary goal of the project will be to provide insights into the disease mechanisms of both ash dieback and oak powdery mildew, and then design a handheld Raman spectrometer to allow in-field testing and monitoring of these diseases. Additionally, a study into the effect of elevated carbon dioxide on these disease models will take place such that the device can be used in the BIFoR FACE facility following development.

Emily Grace - 
Supervisors: Professor Robert Jackson (Bio) 
Year of Study: First
PhD draft title: Analysis of phage that infect oak pathogens and the dynamics of phage population changes and bacterial community change in a disease lesion 
Info: There are currently no anti-microbial treatments available for AOD. However, bacteriophages (phages) are a biocontrol alternative to traditional antibiotic and copper compounds.  Phages, viruses that infect and kill bacteria, have been proven to be effective treatments for several bacterial tree pathogens. This study aims to isolate phages which infect the four AOD-associated bacteria species and characterise them via several assays to assess their suitability as biocontrol agents. It is also important to identify the extent and consequences of phage resistance; therefore, the coevolution dynamics of these different phages and bacteria species will be tracked over a period of 7 days, both in vitro and in planta. Seasonal sampling of infected trees will be performed to determine how phage diversity changes over symptom progression. Dependent on these findings, cocktails of the different phages will be trialled to assess their ability to reduce AOD symptoms and bacteria prevalence.

Katherine Hinton:
Supervisors: Professor Robert Jackson (Bio) Dr Megan McDonald (Bio), Professor Richard Buggs (Kew Gardens)
Year of Study: First
PhD draft title: Examining risk of new disease outbreaks in a diseased population using ash as a model
Info: Pseudomonas savastanoi pv. fraxinii causes canker disease in ash trees, and although it is widespread in the UK, the severity of the disease is relatively low. Why this is the case is not understood and there could be potential for severity to increase in trees weakened by other diseases like ash dieback or pest attack like Emerald Ash Borer. This project therefore aims to develop new tools to study this pathosystem and examine whether there is any potential threat of bacterial disease outbreaks in ash.

Yanzhi Lu:
Supervisors: Dr Christian Pfrang (GEES), Dr Emma Ferranti (GEES), Prof Lee Chapman (GEES)
Year of Study: First
PhD draft title: The potential of urban trees to remove air pollutants, carbon and heat: a large-scale analysis based on Google Street View
PhD: As an important urban green infrastructure, street trees can provide multiple ecosystem services and benefits. My research project aims to quantify the various environmental benefits of street trees in Birmingham (including air pollutant removal, carbon sequestration urban heat island reduction, etc.), and to explore to what extent different factors of urban areas (especially social and economic factors) in urban areas can influence the spatial distribution of these benefits. As a measure for achieving the research aim, this project will also develop new methods for tree evaluation based on innovative technologies (especially Google Street View), and explore the potential of Google Street View in urban green infrastructure research and ecosystem service evaluation.

Vanja Milenkovic:
Supervisors: Robert Jackson (Bio), Vincent Gauci (GEES)
Year of study: First
PhD Draft Title: Examining the impact of soil on tree health and disease progression.
Info: Soil around plant roots (rhizosphere) is critical to plant health and biotic and abiotic stresses in the tree rhizosphere may cause tree health to drop and make them more prone to disease. Previous work in the PuRpOsE project on protecting oak ecosystems has indicated that trees with acute oak decline may be pre-disposed to disease due to water fluctuations in the root system. This project aims to examine soil properties around diseased and healthy trees with a view to alleviating the stress. This project will work in concert with a PDRF to develop an experimental design to look at what changes occur in trees living in different soil environments. This should involve a study of tree changes (traits and internal metabolome and biochemistry) as well as monitor pathogen population changes and performance. Together, these experiments will allow us to understand how soil influences tree health and enable us to develop policy advice for this.

Nigar Parvin: commenced March 2021
Dr Emma Ferranti (GEES)
Year of study:
Details to follow

Amy Webster 
Supervisor(s): Prof Robert Jackson (Bio)
Year of study: First
PhD (draft) title:  A study of tree disease on St Helena
Info: Affiliated with St Helena Research Institute and CABI. St Helena is home to an abundance of endemic flora and fauna. The islands cloud forests are found at the volcanic peaks, providing a complex ecosystem for biodiversity to thrive. However, human activity has left much of the land barren of naturally occurring vegetation. This has fragmented communities of ecological importance and reduced genetic diversity. Due to this, as well as the introduction of invasive plants, many of the tree species on the island are threatened by diminishing numbers and increased risks of pests and diseases. One of the most fundamental species to this unique environment is the black cabbage tree (Melanodendron integrifolium) which is suffering from sudden death due to an unknown disease-causing agent. Other symptoms such as leaf wilt, yellowing, spotting and root rot are also seen across nurseries. Assessments of eDNA from samples taken from nurseries, wild black cabbage trees, as well as other species showing signs of disease, may indicate whether a pathogen is the most likely candidate for this dieback. These findings may then inform management decisions to help prevent the spread of disease, through methods such as plant clinics and media communication with locals, tourists and land owners 

Jiaqi Wei:
Supervisors: Prof Robert Jackson (Bio), Dr Graeme Kettles (Bio)
Year of study: First
PhD (draft) title: 
Evaluating the threat of Xylella on UK trees 
Info: Xylella fastidiosa is a bacterium that is endemic to central America. It is an established pathogen in the US and is a recently emerging pathogen causing devastating disease in southern Europe. Presently, they are limited to Italy, Portugal, Spain and France, but detection of infected plants has been found in other countries in Europe triggering control and eradication procedures. Tree species like ash and oak have also been observed with Xylella infections in Europe, highlighting the wide host range of the pathogen. There is considerable concern around the potential threat to the UK’s horticulture and ecosystem, particularly to trees, should Xylella establish in the country and thus it is important that investment is made to fully understand the threat the pathogen poses. This will help with identifying the potential hosts for the pathogen and whether any resistance exists in the plant population. It will also help with identification and monitoring as well as considering the risk of widespread disease spread.