PhD: Effects of forest diversity on aquatic-terrestrial linkages and processes

University College London

London, UK 🇬🇧

About the Project

Tree species, functional and genetic diversity is known to mediate ecosystem processes and functioning of the forest ecosystems. However, forest ecosystems are connected to other ecosystems through the flow of species, energy and elements. Therefore, changes in biodiversity in forest ecosystems should have cascading effects on ecosystem functioning in coupled ecosystems. Yet, most tests of biodiversity–ecosystem functioning relationships have so far focused on effects within the same ecosystems, largely ignoring consequences across system boundaries. Replicated microcosm experiments provide suitable model systems to study such across-ecosystem impacts and freshwater microcosms, such as natural or artificial water filled tree holes which are frequently inhabited by insects, crustaceans, nematodes, aquatic mites, protists, bacteria and fungi, have been successfully used to study the effects of forest management on aquatic communities.

This project will explore to what extent tree diversity affects linkages between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems by using aquatic microcosms installed within a long-term Satakunta forest diversity experiment in Finland ( and potentially other forest diversity experiments within TreeDivNet platform ( in the UK and abroad. Aquatic microcosms containing community-specific leaf litter will be exposed in forest stands composed of different number of tree species and genotypes and effects of tree species richness, composition, functional diversity and genetic diversity on a variety of water and aquatic diversity parameters will be assessed. The following research questions could be addressed within this project:

–         Are taxonomic, functional and phylogenetic diversity in the aquatic system affected by the same tree diversity drivers (e.g. tree species richness, functional diversity, genetic diversity)?

–         Which of the above tree diversity drivers have the strongest effects on structure, diversity and functioning of aquatic communities?

–         What are the underlying mechanisms of the observed effects (e.g. changes in microclimate, differences in litter and water quality)? 

–         How do tree diversity drivers affect different aquatic diversity levels at different spatial scales (alpha, beta, gamma diversity)?

The project will be co-supervised by Prof Julia Koricheva (RHUL) who has expertise in studying effects of forest diversity on ecosystem functioning and Dr Pavel Kratina (QMUL) who is an expert in aquatic food web ecology. The project would be suitable for the applicants with background in ecology, zoology or biology and interests in linkage between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning and forest and/or aquatic ecology. It offers the prospective PhD student an opportunity to develop skills in experimental design, field work, statistical analysis, and both forest and aquatic ecology. There is also an opportunity for the candidate to lead data analysis and synthesis across several forest diversity experiments in collaboration with other researchers from the international TreeDivNet platform and the global MICROcosm project.   

Entry requirements: BSc degree in ecology, zoology or biology. 

To apply follow link and instructions at Please indicate supervisor’s last name “Koricheva” and project title in your application. Application deadline 12 March 2023

Funding Notes

Fully funded PhD studentship for 3.5 years (UK student fee, research expenses and stipend aligned on UKRI conditions). Start Sept 2023


– Scherer-Lorenzen M., et al. (2022). Pathways for cross-boundary effects of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 37(5): 454-467.
– Petermann J.S., et al. (2020). Direct and indirect effects of forest management on tree-hole inhabiting aquatic organisms and their functional traits. Science of the Total Environment 704: 135418.





IHE Delft MSc in Water and Sustainable Development