January 16, 2017

Linking functional diversity with soil carbon dynamics in secondary tropical forests

Linking functional diversity with soil carbon dynamics in secondary tropical forests 400 x 400 px

Tropical forests contain more carbon (C) than any other terrestrial ecosystem, at least half of which is stored belowground. Roughly 50% of the world’s tropical forests are now degraded, making them crucial for C sequestration. The regeneration of tropical forests following disturbance involves substantial changes in tree species composition, growth, and soil properties over time. Although there is a clear pattern of increasing C storage aboveground as forests re-establish, we know very little about changes in C cycling belowground.

This project aims to advance current knowledge of the links between above- and belowground processes during secondary succession in tropical forests. The project will assess soil C dynamics along an established chronosequence of secondary forest stands (40 to >100 years old). A series of experiments and detailed measurements will assess the impact of changes in tree species composition on soil processes and properties during secondary succession to determine: (i) how belowground C stocks and fluxes vary through forest succession and (ii) how these changes relate to functional composition of above- and belowground communities.

The successful candidate will conduct field campaigns in the Barro Colorado Nature Monument in Panama, Central America to gather a comprehensive dataset on belowground C dynamics and work with researchers at four institutions to identify links between above- and belowground processes affecting carbon storage and turnover during forest succession.

The student will work in a supportive and collaborative research team at four institutions (CEH, Lancaster University, Stirling University and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute) to develop a range of specialist skills including ecological and ecosystem theory; experimental design; gas flux measurements; chemical analyses of soil and plant material; analysis of microbial communities and ecological statistics. The student will also have the opportunity to develop transferable skills such as project management, science communication, critical thinking, team-work and leadership.

Eligibility: The successful applicant will hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in a related subject. Fieldwork experience and organization skills highly desirable. A strong work ethic and willingness to learn new techniques are essential. For further details please contact Prof Ute Skiba ( or Dr Emma Sayer (