Dr Martin Wilkes, University of Essex, School of Life Sciences
Dr Alexia Gonzalez-Ferreras, IHCantabria
Dr Jose Barquin, IHCantabria
Climate warming exerts immense pressure on ecosystems across multiple levels of biological organisation. Iconic species like Atlantic salmon are disappearing from the southern limit of their distribution; simplified communities with fewer species and trophic connections are less resilient to extreme events; and amplified energy fluxes through food webs may increase carbon emissions to the atmosphere, intensifying the rate of climate change. Freshwaters are particularly vulnerable due to greater oxygen limitation and reduced rates of dispersal compared to terrestrial and marine environments. Human activities have also compounded these effects through land-use change, particularly deforestation for agriculture or urbanisation. The physical shading, hydrological stability, and allochthonous energy sources provided by riparian vegetation could offer a vital nature-based solution to warming impacts on freshwaters, but studies are needed to quantify the benefits of forest cover for individual physiology, food web structure, and ecosystem processes.
This project will examine changes at the individual (physiological), community (food web structure), and ecosystem levels (carbon cycling) in rivers across a forest-cover gradient in the Cantabrian Mountains, Spain. Extensive datasets are available from sampling of >50 rivers across the region over the past decade, including biomasses of fish, invertebrates, and diatoms and estimates of ecosystem metabolism from dissolved oxygen probes. Analyses of these long-term datasets will be supplemented with processing of archival samples for food web quantification through gut content analysis. Original fieldwork will be conducted to fill gaps in the forest cover gradient and to quantify metabolic rates of fish and invertebrates using in situ respirometry.
The candidate will join the Ecology and Environmental Microbiology Group at the University of Essex and will also work with researchers at IHCantabria in Spain. The supervisory team will offer training in a broad skillset related to ecophysiology, fish biology, food web ecology, freshwater taxonomy, ecological modelling, and science communication. The candidate will also develop extensive field skills in electrofishing, respirometry, and freshwater ecology.
We are looking for a candidate who is enthusiastic about global change biology, freshwater ecology, fish biology, and ecosystem ecology, with a degree in ecology, biology, or environmental science.