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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities

Lead Supervisor: David Aldridge, Zoology

This is a CASE project with Anglian Water

Brief summary: 
This project will investigate the effects of the 2022 droughts on aquatic communities, identifying which animals and plants are the most tolerant to drying, which are the fastest and slowest to recolonise, and which management techniques may best protect Cambridgeshire's riverine communities from future drought events.
Importance of the area of research concerned: 
The droughts of 2022 resulted in the widespread drying of entire riverbeds in many of Cambridgeshire's streams and rivers. This timely project will help to understand possible long-term ecological trajectories associated with this major environmental change and seek to identify possible conservation strategies. The project meets one of CCI's project priorities, which is to understand and enhance the conservation of biodiversity in Cambridgeshire.
Project summary : 
Drought is an increasingly important factor in shaping aquatic communities. During 2022 many of Cambridgeshire's streams and brooks experienced complete drying, while others were reduced to a series of pools where some organisms accumulated in locally high abundance. We would hypothesise that some taxa are more vulnerable to the effects of drought than others, and that some taxa will recolonise affected rivers more quickly than others. Field surveys will be conducted to identify the most and least vulnerable taxa, monitoring will identify which taxa re-appear first, and management regimes will be identified and tested that provide possible refuge habitats for future drought events.
What will the student do?: 
Data from the Environment Agency and our own databases provide information on the drought status of all Cambridgeshire's rivers and streams. Additional data can be provided by discussion with parish councils. Macroinvertebrate and plant surveys will be conducted along the rivers and streams at fixed points to identify existing taxa, along with standard abiotic parameters. Community structure will be compared between sites using ordination techniques. Repeat surveys at the fixed monitoring points will allow for recovery of communities to be assessed. If further major droughts occur the student will monitor community changes in drying streams and investigate the communities of standing pools within dried riverbeds. The student will conduct a systematic review of management techniques for reducing the effects of drought on aquatic communities, identifying practical, evidence-based guidance for river management in Cambridgeshire. There are opportunities for laboratory-based studies to understand the response of different taxa to drying and to use biomarkers to quantify stress under different conditions.
References - references should provide further reading about the project: 
Hill, M.J., Mathers, K.L., Little, S., Worrall, T., Gunn, J. & Wood, P.J. 2019. Ecological effects of a supra-seasonal drought on macroinvertebrate communities differ between near-perennial and ephemeral river reaches. Aquatic Sciences, vol. 81, 62.
Dodemaide, D.T., Matthews, T.G., Iervasi, D. & Lester, R.E. 2018. Anthropogenic water bodies as drought refuge for aquatic macroinvertebrates and macrophytes. Science of The Total Environment, Vol. 617, pp. 543-553.,
You can find out about applying for this project on the Department of Zoology page.
Professor David Aldridge