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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities

Lead Supervisor: Lynn Dicks, Zoology

Co-Supervisor: Coline Jaworski, Zoology

Brief summary: 
This project will work in partnership with existing Farmer Cluster Groups already focused on soil health, to model, predict and monitor wider biodiversity and ecosystem responses to regenerative agriculture.
Importance of the area of research concerned: 
The potential for carbon sequestration in agricultural soils is an important element of climate mitigation strategies globally, and considered a critical lever for reducing net greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. Farm practices to enhance soil health and increase soil carbon in arable systems include reduced tillage, grass leys, cover crops, soil amendments, and returning crop residues to the soil – together referred to as ‘regenerative agriculture’. Evidence from farmer surveys shows promising uptake of these practices among English arable farmers, and clear potential for them to become conventional farming practice within the next 10 years. While there is ample evidence of benefits to soils, and in some cases, crop yields, little is known about how these benefits interact with other environmental outcomes. Regenerative agriculture influences the overall structure, functioning and resilience of agricultural ecosystems, including potential impacts on pollination, pest regulation, water flows and declining farmland biodiversity, which could be important co-benefits or trade-offs.
Project summary : 
This project will work in partnership with existing Farmer Cluster Groups already focused on soil health, to model, predict and monitor wider biodiversity and ecosystem responses to regenerative agriculture. Questions could include, for example, what are the effects of reduced soil disturbance and enhanced soil biodiversity on insect and bird species using arable fields, and the ecosystem services they provide? How does enhanced herbicide use in low tillage systems impact soil-dwelling invertebrates?
What will the student do?: 
The project will focus on one or more taxonomic groups with a strong ecological link to soil (e.g. as a habitat or feeding resource for part of the life cycle). This could include, for example, ground-nesting bees, ground beetles, spiders, moths, molluscs or ground-foraging birds that feed on invertebrates. We expect the project to compare management types at field or landscape-scale with a replicated paired sampling design, and to monitor outcomes both empirically and through modelling. A number of approaches are possible, according to student’s interest. They include landscape-scale modelling to predict biodiversity and ecosystem service outcomes such as water quality, climate change mitigation, soil erosion, bee populations and pollination services; analysis of available long term datasets for bees, butterflies, moths; direct measurement of biodiversity or ecosystem services delivered by invertebrates or birds, such as pollination and pest regulation in field studies and experiments; exploration of ecological community structure or function responses, through ecological network analysis.
References - references should provide further reading about the project: 
Dicks, L.V., et al 2018. What agricultural practices are most likely to deliver ‘sustainable intensification’ in the UK? Food and Energy Security, e00148.
Haddaway, N.R., Hedlund, K., Jackson, L.E., Kätterer, T., Lugato, E., Thomsen, I.K., Jørgensen, H.B. & Isberg, P.-E. 2017. How does tillage intensity affect soil organic carbon? A systematic review. Environmental Evidence, 6, 30.
Shackelford, G.E., Kelsey, R., Sutherland, W.J., Kennedy, C.M., Wood, S.A., Gennet, S., Karp, D.S., Kremen, C., Seavy, N.E., Jedlicka, J.A., Gravuer, K., Kross, S.M., Bossio, D.A., Muñoz-Sáez, A., LaHue, D.G., Garbach, K., Ford, L.D., Felice, M., Reynolds, M.D., Rao, D.R., Boomer, K., LeBuhn, G. & Dicks, L.V. 2019. Evidence Synthesis as the Basis for Decision Analysis: A Method of Selecting the Best Agricultural Practices for Multiple Ecosystem Services. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, 3.
You can find out about applying for this project on the Department of Zoology page.
Dr Lynn Dicks
Department of Zoology Graduate Administrator