November 28, 2018

An experimental and macroecological investigation of precipitation effects on Arctic plant root traits

The Arctic tundra is particularly exposed to climate change, with warming of up to 5°C measured during the 20th century, and substantial increases in precipitation predicted for the 21st century. However, projections from climate change models vary widely during the short growing season in this ecosystem and predictions of consequences for plant growth are still preliminary. Additionally, whilst studies in the Arctic have shown shrubification and significant recent change in above-ground plant functional traits such as plant height, our knowledge of changes in belowground traits is minimal, despite most plant biomass being below ground in the Arctic. Understanding below-ground plant responses to climatic changes is crucial to improving predictions of future plant distribution and functional change in the Arctic tundra and elsewhere. This project takes advantage of a large precipitation experiment starting in 2019 in Kytalyk, northeastern Siberia, to perform the first test of the combined effect of precipitation change and permafrost degradation on below-ground plant functional traits, including assessments of fine plant roots and mycorrhizal associations.

The successful applicant will have excellent networking opportunities, taking advantage of a large collaborative team of ecologists, biogeographers, remote sensing experts and geo-scientists in the UK, Switzerland and the USA. The project will involve placements with project partners at the University of Zurich and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Knoxville, Tennessee), field work in NE Siberia, laboratory analyses of fine root traits and numerical modelling. Applicants must have grounding either in biogeography/ecology/plant biology or quantitative methods/statistics. In either case, the applicant should be excited to learn about the other area of expertise. Programming (ideally in R), ecological/geological field experience, expertise in geostatistical techniques and plant roots are assets, but enthusiasm for nature and curiosity about the impact of climate change on ecosystems are by far the most important requirements.

Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours degree at 2:1 level, or equivalent, in a subject such as Biology, Ecology, Plant Biology or Natural Sciences. We expect the most competitive applicants will have a Master’s qualification or equivalent, and/or substantial practical experience.

For further details (recommended), please contact Dr Franziska Schrodt ( and Dr Richard Field ( We would prefer it if you send your email to both of us, please.