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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities
Beatroot field under drought and conventional farming


Lead Supervisor: Lynn Dicks, Zoology

Co-Supervisor: Coline Jaworski, Zoology


Brief summary: 
This project will work in partnership with existing Farmer Cluster Groups focused on regenerative agriculture to measure, model and predict the impacts of climate change on crop production and ecosystem services in regenerative or conventional farming systems.
Importance of the area of research concerned: 
Agriculture is a major contributor to climate change and is considered an important lever for climate mitigation notably through carbon sequestration in soil. Regenerative agriculture aims to enhance soil health by using reduced tillage, grass leys, cover crops, soil amendments, and returning crop residues to the soil. There is promising uptake of these practices among English arable farmers. Such farming practices could increase carbon sequestration in soil and may also buffer the impacts of climate change on crops, for instance by retaining more water in the soil and dampening drought effects. There is a need to assess the resilience of farming systems to climate change, ie their capacity to maintain crop production or to quickly and fully recover after a disaster. In particular, how farming practices may affect ecosystem services under climate change needs to be assessed. For instance while climate change is predicted to increase crop pest damage and reduce the efficiency of biological pest control (control of pests by natural enemies), regenerative agriculture could reverse such effect by promoting populations of natural enemies through the creation of more favourable habitats.
Project summary : 
This project will work in partnership with existing Farmer Cluster Groups focused on regenerative agriculture to measure, model and predict the resilience of farming systems to climate change. This will include monitoring the disturbance and recovery of crop health and ecosystem services to extreme climate events in regenerative and conventional farms. It will be important to link crop vulnerability to specific climate events (drought, heatwaves, late frost) with the status of ecological communities and supported ecosystem services (pest control, pollination, water availability). Examples of specific questions are: How do extreme climatic events affect crop response to pest attacks, and the efficacy of pest control by natural enemies? How are such effects moderated by farming practices? How do farming practices affect water availability to crops and crop recovery after drought events?
What will the student do?: 
The student will focus on plant-insect interactions (crop-pest-natural enemy) including physiological responses (plant defences), community dynamics, and ecosystem services at field or landscape-scale in a replicated paired sampling design including regenerative and conventional farms. A number of approaches are possible, according to the student’s interest. They include the monitoring of arthropod populations, crop physiology and ecosystem services under natural meteorological conditions and extreme climate events in a correlative approach (eg based of Feit et al. 2021); landscape-scale modelling to predict the resilience of crops and ecosystem services under climate change; and experimental approaches simulating extreme events in situ (eg, rain exclusion, in-field cage experiments simulating pest attacks to crop plants) or in controlled conditions (greenhouse or laboratory microcosm). The student should favour a combination of approaches, both empirical and theoretical.
References - references should provide further reading about the project: 
Arora, N.K. 2019. Impact of climate change on agriculture production and its sustainable solutions. Environmental Sustainability vol. 2, pp. 95-96. doi:
Rhodes, C.J. 2017. The Imperative for Regenerative Agriculture. Science Progress, March vol., pp. 80-129. doi:10.3184/003685017X14876775256165
Feit, B.; Blüthgen, N.; Daouti, E.; Straub, C.; Traugott, M. & Jonsson, M. 2021. Landscape complexity promotes resilience of biological pest control to climate change. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol. 288, pp. 20210547. doi:10.1098/rspb.2021.0547
You can find out about applying for this project on the Department of Zoology page.
Dr Lynn Dicks
Department of Zoology Graduate Administrator