PhD Studentship in Environmental Science

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Amar Annamalai
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PhD Studentship in Environmental Science

PhD Studentship in Environmental Science

University of Reading - School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science

Qualification type:


Funding for:
UK Students, EU Students

Funding amount:
Tuition fees plus £13,863 stipend

Full Time

Placed on:
18th December 2014

13th March 2015


Project title:
  How can we make better use of crop residues?

Dr Tom Sizmur and Dr Simon Mortimer, University of Reading / Professor Andy Whitmore, Rothamsted Research

Project Overview:

Earthworms provide a number of beneficial ecosystem services in agricultural soils, including increases in (i) rainfall infiltration rate, (ii) nutrient availability, (iii) aeration, (iv) root penetrability, and ultimately, (v) crop yield. Earthworm populations are established and sustained by the addition of food into the soil in the form of manures, or crop residues (e.g. straw). However, despite containing more calories than farmyard manure, straw does not increase earthworm populations or crop yields as much as manure.

This PhD project will aim to determine (i) why straw incorporation does not increase earthworm populations as much as manures, and (ii) what changes in the way that straw is applied to arable soils can be made to maximise earthworm populations and increase crop yields.

A suite of laboratory and field experiments will be employed to investigate earthworm/straw interactions and develop a strategy for making better use of crop residues. Experiments will focus on the application of straw to soil where a different species of plants to those that provided the straw are grown. It is hypothesised that the microbial communities in these soils would be less adapted to decomposing straw, and more of the calories from the straw would be available to earthworms to assimilate. Data from the experiments will be used to model the soil food-web and make predictions regarding the impact of this phenomenon on crop yield.

Because straw represents a considerable energy source, there is an opportunity to utilise it more efficiently and ensure that the calories applied to soil support organisms that provide ecosystem services. This PhD has the potential to fundamentally change the way in which crop residues are managed on farms and make a considerable contribution towards sustainable intensification.


  • Applicants should hold a 1st class or upper 2nd class degree, or equivalent, in a relevant subject such as environmental science, agriculture, or biology.
  • Due to restrictions on the funding this studentship is open to UK/EU students.

Funding Details:

  • Starts October 2015
  • Three year award
  • Tuition fees plus £13,863 stipend

How to apply:   

To apply for this studentship please submit an application for a PhD in Environmental Science at

*Important note* Please quote the reference ‘GS15-008’  in the ‘Scholarships applied for’ box which appears within the Funding Section of your on-line application.

Application Deadline: 
13th March 2015

Further Enquiries:
Please note that, where a candidate is successful in being awarded funding, this will be confirmed via a formal studentship award letter; this will be provided separately from any Offer of Admission and will be subject to standard checks for eligibility and other criteria.

For informal enquiries and further information about the project please contact Dr Tom Sizmur, email, telephone +44 (0)118 378  8913.