Doctoral Research

To follow is a list of our doctoral researchers. Those marked with an asterisk* are completing research at the BIFoR FACE facility 

School of Biosciences

*Anna Gardner: 
Supervisors: Prof Rob MacKenzie and Prof J Pritchard 
Year of study: Third 
PhD: “I will be investigating the effect of elevated CO2 on leaf-level photosynthesis by measurements of gas exchange, stomatal conductance and chlorophyll content.” 
Further information: Poster 2021  

Emily Grace: commences Sept/Oct 2021 (oak bacteriophages, Action Oak more details to follow)

*Richard Hill: based at Western Sydney University, EucFACE
Supervisors: Jonathan Plett (Western Sydney University) and Graeme Kettles (Birmingham) 
Further information: to follow 

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.

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.

*Mark Raw: 
Supervisors: Estrella Luna Diez (Bio), Scott Hayward (Bio) 
Year of study: Second 
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 

Amy Webster: commences Sept/Oct 2021 (cabbage tree disease on St Helena, affiliated with St Helena Research Institute and CABI more details to follow)

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. 

Department of Economics 

Maria Teresa González: 
Supervisors: Prof David Maddison, Dr Allan Beltran Hernandez 
Year of study: Third
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

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences 

Nezha Acil: 
Supervisors: Dr Thomas Pugh and Prof Jon Sadler 
Year of study: Final
PhD:  Global forest dynamics - storm related tree mortality and its influence on global forest cycling

*Alex Armstrong:
Supervisors: Dr Sami Ullah (GEES), Dr Liz Hamilton (GEES)
Year of study: First 
PhD Draft Title: Effects of atmospheric Nitrogen pollution on Soil Carbon Storage and Greenhouse Gas Emission from Forests Soils
Info: Reactive forms of aerially derived nitrogen deposition sourced from agriculture are often scavenged by tree's and deposited within woodland systems. Understanding how enhanced rates of nitrogen deposition impact woodland soil with regard to soil organic carbon decomposition, microbial activity and the release of nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide is required to understand how our woodlands and their soils can be conserved and their provisions preserved. 

Sijeh Asuk:
Supervisors: Dr Tom Pugh, Dr Nick Kettridge & Prof Jon Sadler
Year of study: Final  
PhD: Population ecology and phenological responses of food-producing forest trees to climate change: implications for rural food security

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.

*Aileen Baird:
Supervisors: Prof Francis Pope and Prof Robin May 
Year of study: Final 
Info: The effect of enriched atmospheric carbon dioxide on environmental fungi: Despite playing key roles in decomposition, in mycorrhizal associations providing nutrients to plants, and as plant and human pathogens, environmental fungi are notoriously understudied. Measuring the response of fungi to enriched carbon dioxide is an essential component in understanding   how the woodland ecosystem will respond to enriched carbon dioxide. My PhD has two major strands. The first is to characterize the fungal populations at BIFoR FACE, and to measure the variation in these populations temporally. The second aspect is to investigate the effect of enriched carbon dioxide on fungal populations, where I am using environmental sampling from BIFoR FACE in conjunction with laboratory experiments.
Further informationPresentation  Poster 2021

*Edward Bannister:
Prof Rob MacKenzie
Year of study:
PhD: Environmental aerodynamics of the BIFoR FACE site. 
Further information: Poster 2019 

Hector Camargo Alvarez:
Supervisors: Dr Tom Pugh
Year of study: Third 
PhD: Hector is an agronomist engineer from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia focused in modelling the response of crops phenology, physiology and productivity to environmental factors. During his PhD research, he will try to describe and model the deleterious effect of ozone pollution on cereal production and its economic consequences in China.

*Nine Douwes Dekker:
Supervisors: Vincent Gauci, Rob MacKenzie, Sami Ullah
Year of study: Third 
PhD: “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 

*Katy Faulkner: Based at University of Warwick  
Supervisors: Prof Gary Bending (Warwick) & University of Birmingham supervisor is Dr Sami Ullah 
PhD: Looking at the resistance and resilience of forest soil microbial communities and greenhouse gas emission to extreme weather events and a high CO2 world. 
Further information: Poster 2021 and  CENTA website

Lavinia Georgescu: 
Supervisors: Dr Tom Pugh
Year of study: Third 
PhD: Trees are dying from drought - why care?  Forests are huge stores and sinks of carbon. Droughts will become worse under climate change - more frequent, hotter, and drier.  The extent to which drought plays a role in tree mortality across ecosystems is unknown. This project will use machine learning to find patterns and relationships regarding droughts and forests at a biogeographical level. This scale is most relevant for understanding feedbacks of tree mortality on future climate change.

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

*Laura James:
Dr Christian Pfrang, Dr R Girling (Reading) and Prof Rob MacKenzie 
Year of study: Third
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  

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

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.
Year of study: Second
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 information: Poster 2021 

Fatima Khan:
Supervisors: Dr Joshua Larsen 
Year of study: First 
PhD: more details to come soon

*Thomas King:
Supervisors: Based at University of Lancaster with Kirsti Ashworth (Lancaster) Rob MacKenzie is the University of Birmingham supervisor
PhD: Ecophysiology of plant volatiles under elevated carbon dioxide. 
Further information: Poster 2020 

Jenny Knight:
Supervisors: Dr Steve Emery and Dr Simon Dixon
Year of study: Final  
PhD: Exploring the desirability of forest landscapes in a natural flood management context.
Further information: Poster 2020

*Angeliki Kourmouli:
Supervisors: Lesley Batty, Rebecca Bartlett, Zongbo Shi
Year of study: Final (submitted) 
PhD: Soil Respiration and Biogeochemistry at BIFoR FACE: This project will measure rates of soil respiration at the BIFoR FACE woodland, and identify the contributions of roots, mycorrhizal fungi and free-living microorganisms; thus, the project will help determine whether trees increase carbon allocation below ground under elevated CO2. Partitioning of “new” and “old” carbon in soil respiration and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) to determine how forest soil DOC and carbon storage is changing under elevated CO2
Further information: Poster 2019 

Aleksandra Kulawska: 
Supervisors: Dr Nick Kettridge, Dr Thomas Pugh, Prof Rob MacKenzie & Dr Sami Ullah 
Year of study: Final 
PhD: Exploring the desirability of forest landscapes in a natural flood management context. University of Birmingham Further information: Perspectives article - Thirsty and Drunken Trees 

Kerryn Little: 
Supervisors: Dr Nick Kettridge
Year of study: Final  
PhD: Predicting Future Fuel (Vegetation) Water Moisture Content and Associated Wildfire Danger Across Temperate Europe
Further information: Pyrolife website

*Sophie Mills:
Supervisors: Prof Francis Pope & Prof Rob MacKenzie 
Year of study: Third  
PhD: “I will be investigating the effect of elevated CO2 on primary biological aerosol (bioaerosol) production, in particular pollen and fungal spores, in woodlands as part of the BIFoR FACE experiment. Bioaerosols transport genetic material of plants and fungi, can cause and exacerbate severe health issues afflicting humans, and they can act as cloud condensation and ice nuclei, impacting our atmosphere and climate. This research will contribute to informing predictive climate models (e.g. JULES land surface model) used at the Met Office." 
Further information: Poster 2021 

*Susan Quick: 
Supervisors: Prof Stefan Krause & Prof Rob MacKenzie 
Year of study: Sixth (part time)
PhD: Tree-Soil-Water relations under elevated CO2 - This project will investigate the role the water cycle (export/import and storage) plays in carbon transport, in a small temperate oak-hazel woodland. Is the canopy and understorey development, natural decay and regeneration in   a mature oak/hazel woodland influences by climate variability, especially eCO2, temperature and precipitation? Considerations include: use of water by the dominant/subdominant tree   species; understanding of canopy water holding and water flux at the   leaf/twig level; the influence of understorey (herb and shrub layers);   woodland species diversity.
Further information: Presentation  / Poster 2021 

*Andrea Rabbi:
Supervisors: Prof Stefan Krause 
Year of study: Third 
PhD: Mixed forest planting with elevated H2
Further information: Poster 2021 

*Manon Rumeau:
Supervisors: Sami Ullah & Rob MacKenzie 
Year of study: Second
PhD:  Exploring the effects of elevated CO2 on free living Nitrogen fixation as well as on other Nitrogen cycle processes in two mature forest, BIFoR FACE (UK) and EucFACE (Australia).Manon is working with the QUINTUS team
 Forests under climate change will require more Nitrogen (N) to continue stocking a part of our CO2 emission. The main source of new N in natural ecosystems is Biological N Fixation (BNF). I will be exploring the effects of elevated CO2 on free living N fixation as well as on other N cycle processes in two mature forest, BIFoR FACE (UK) and EucFACE (Australia). By using 15N isotopic methods, we will have a better understand of N cycle response to climate change. 
Further information: Poster 2021 

*Klaske van Wijngaarden:
Supervisors: Tom Pugh (GEES), Josh Larsen (GEES), Ben Smith (Western Sydney University (WSU)) Belinda Medlyn (WSU)
Year of study: Second
PhD: From branch to forest to globe: How do trees choices regarding growth affect forest responses to increased carbon dioxide levels? 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 COlevels 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 information: Poster 2021 

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


International Development Department 

Harriet Croome:
Brock Bersaglio (International Development Department (IDD)), Fiona Nunan (IDD)
Year of study: 
Investigating how changing interactions between humans and elephants affect forest socio-ecological systems in drylands. 
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 information
Poster 2021 

School of Engineering

Kieran Clark:
Supervisors: Prof. Pola Goldberg Oppenheimer (Chem Eng), Dr 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.

Bruno Santos: 
Supervisors: Professor Philip Davies; Dr. Joshua Larsen
Year of study: Second
Further informationPoster 2021 

School of English, Drama and Creative Studies

Dion Dobrzynski:
Supervisors: John Holmes (English), Jon Sadler (Geography Earth and Environmental Science (GEES))
Year of study: Second
PhD: Forest Ecology in Fantasy Fiction: Mobilising the Imaginative Resources of Fantasy Fiction for Living with Forests 
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     Video 

Thomas Kaye:
Supervisors: Alexandra Harris (English), Matthew Ward (English)
Year of study: Second
PhD:  Reading the Grain: The Patterns of Wood Rewilding Contemporary Prose and Poetry.  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 

School of Mathematics

Bradly Deeley:
Supervisors: Dr Natalia Petrovskaya and Dr Rosemary Dyson 
Year of study: Third
PhD: 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


School of Pyschology

Eszter Toth: 
Supervisors: Dr Ali Mazaheri and Dr Jane Raymond
Year of study: Final
PhD: Focus on Cognition: Can forests balance the brain? 
Further information: Poster 2020


Recent Graduates / Graduating soon 

Liam Crowley
Supervisors: Dr Scott Hayward, Prof Jeremy Pritchard, Prof Jon Sadler
PhD: Insects as key drivers of change in woodland systems under climate change:  This project will seek to elucidate the effects of elevated CO2 (eCO2) on insect communities and the associated impacts these have on their role as ecosystems drivers; including the impact on above- and belowground processes involved in carbon cycling. This will be achieved by addressing the impact of eCO2 on four core areas. 
   - Leaf nutrition (C:N ratio)
   - Insect diversity, abundance and phenology
   - The contributions of herbivorous species to nutrient dynamics 
   - Synchronicity of woodland plant-pollinator interactions.
Further information: Poster 2021

Alfred Bockarie
Supervisors: Eloïse Marais (Leicester), Rob MacKenzie and Roy Harrison
PhD: Air pollution emissions from charcoal production and use.

Vilane Goncalves-Sales 
Prof Robert Elliott and Prof Eric Strobl
PhD: Satellite monitoring of deforestation and the role of clouds in Maranhão. 

*Tony Hyacinth
Prof Rob MacKenzie and Prof Francis Pope 
PhD: Plant volatile compounds under elevated CO2: Plants react to stress (drought, heat, pests and diseases, and changes in atmospheric composition) by changing the priority of metabolic pathways   down which they channel the carbon they fix in photosynthesis. Some pathways produce chemicals which can be detected in the air and in crushed leaves. This project uses state-of-the-art mass spectrometry to detect changes in volatile plant chemicals over time and in response to elevated CO2.

Jennifer Kirby
Supervisors: Lee Chapman and Vicky Chapman 
PhD: High resolution leaf fall monitoring and low adhesion forecasting using hemispherical near-infrared imagery
Further information: Presentation 2020

Yiting Zhang 
Supervisors: Jeremy Whitehand & Rob MacKenzie
PhD: Urban morphology and ecosystem services: an historico-geographical study of fringe belts and urban green spaces in Birmingham, UK 

*Clare Ziegler:
Supervisors: Iain Johnston & Rosemary Dyson
PhD: Quantitative modelling of root growth and carbon allocation: bridging   theory and experiment:
Roots bridge plants and soils, two central players in the carbon cycle, and   constitute a vital and poorly understood aspect of carbon processing in ecosystems across the globe. Clare will use cutting-edge statistical and simulation tools to analyse lab and ecosystem observations of root structure, to elucidate the micro- and mesoscopic physical role of elevated carbon budgets.
Further informationPoster 2019