PhD Project: Valuing Ecosystem Services Produced by the Colombian Páramos

 (via FindAPhD)
University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Position Type: 
Organization Type: 
University/Academia/Research/Think tank
Experience Level: 
Not Specified
Degree Required: 
Advanced Degree (Master's or JD)


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Project Summary 

This project will use interdisciplinary methods to explore a production function approach to valuing hydrological services in Páramo case study sites. The analysis will draw on a range of disciplines to inform land use scenarios and potential methods and instruments for payment for ecosystem services. The project will be conducted against the background of specific institutional redesign challenges in post-conflict Colombia. 

Project background 

This project will focus on the economic and social valuation of key ecosystem services in a globally iconic ecosystem. The Páramos are tropical mountain wetlands found between 3000m and 4500m of elevation in the Andes. Known for their extreme water storage and regulation capacity, they generate exceptionally high and sustained base flows crucial for water provisioning to farmland, settlements and cities downstream. They are also an important repository of biodiversity. Soil organic matter is known to be a determining factor in the development of the Páramos’ extraordinary water retention properties. However, the distinctive Páramo vegetation also contributes to water regulation, through storage in live plant material via structural adaptations such as those of Sphagnum mosses, for which saturated water content can be >90% and through the formation of large amounts of spongy necromass. Both litter production and soil cover are affected by productivity, which is positively related to biodiversity in natural systems. 

In wetland ecosystems, water uptake by ecosystem components other than soil can strongly affect water-holding capacity and the water-release characteristic, and so water yield. 

To establish causal links from plant diversity to water provision we need to integrate organic matter dynamics with hydrological responses in a new wetland process model designed to explore the “production function” linking land uses and water provision. An added dimension to this project is that land uses need to be negotiated in the social context of post-conflict reconciliation in Colombia. 

Páramo areas are already degraded and their potential further demise is of great concern to local communities, regional and national policy and decision makers and researchers. All agree that further intensification and exploitation requires a sustainable approach. This socio-ecological interaction continues with local communities relying solely on the Páramo for their livelihoods (water, cattle and small-scale cropping) and their basic necessity could be a barrier to change and effective management. 

This project arises in relation to our engagement in recently funded suite of Colombia-Bio projects (UKRI) and related Colciencias projects (Colombia). You will be working alongside (UK and Colombian) hydrologists, spatial geographers, social scientist, economists and story tellers, engaged in two separate NERC/Newton funded research projects targeting the different ecosystem service values and the distributional impacts of alternative management and regulatory (water and land use) regimes in target sites. 

These projects will be developing high quality remotely sensed data as an input to inform the economic and social science of valuation methods, their application and value capture by relevant stakeholders. The PhD project will involve fieldwork in Colombia to investigate stakeholder perspectives and values. Key research questions: 

  1. What are the key ecosystem service values in target Páramos and how are they generated in biophysical and social terms?
  2. Can we integrate remotely sensed and field observations on land use and cover linked up to a predictive model of water flows with socio economic data?
  3. How should different on site an offsite water uses be valued?
  4. Can we develop equitable schemes to pay and compensate for the provision of ecosystem services? 


The first phase of this PhD will consider the conceptualisation of hybrid methods for developing a production function approach to water valuation. The student will then interact with researchers on three separate NERC/Colciencias projects to develop data modelling techniques linking remotely sensed with local biophysical and socio economic data. The work will include a data collection period in Colombia. 


This award is likely suit a student seeking to expand their expertise in ecosystem service valuation and spatial analysis. Applicants from a quantitative disciplinary background (masters equivalent in maths, engineering, physics, biology, economics and agricultural sciences) aiming to develop cross-disciplinary skills are particularly welcome. This student is also relevant to students from the current UoE Masters degrees in Geosciences (e.g. Ecological Economics, Ecosystem Services Environmental Sustainability, Environment and Development, Integrated Resource Management, GIS). 

Funding Notes

E4 DTP studentships are fully-funded (minimum of 3.5 years). They include: 

* Stipend based on RCUK minima (£14,777 for 2018/2019) 
* Fees (Home/EU Fees) 
* Research Costs (standard research costs plus, depending on the projects requirements, additional research costs can also be allocated) 

To be eligible to apply for a fully-funded DTP studentship, you must: (1) be a UK or EU citizen or a non-EU citizen with permanent settled status in the UK and (2) have been ordinarily resident in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the studentship (this applies to all citizen categories).