Aquatic-terrestrial linkages in a UK / European context – The role of freshwater ecosystems in enhancing terrestrial biodiversity and ecosystem services

This project is available from the academic year 2025/26 onwards.

Theme: Biodiversity, Ecology & Conservation

Primary Supervisor:

Jan Axmacher

Geography, UCL

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Secondary Supervisor:

Tim Newbold

Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

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Additional Supervisor(s):
Carl Sayer (UCL)
Charlie Outhwaite (UCL)

Project Description:

Recent studies have identified a strong local role of small freshwater habitats with their aquatic-terrestrial margins/ecotones in providing substantial subsidies to terrestrial ecosystems (e.g. via emerging invertebrates and supporting diverse pollinator assemblages). Nonetheless, these studies focused on small spatial scopes, whereas we are lacking large-scale investigations addressing the question if observed benefits of aquatic ecosystems for the surrounding terrestrial environment are limited to small, local scales, or if these effects are also traceable on much broader, national scales. The proposed PhD project will investigate this question, combining remote sensing techniques with available data-bases on freshwater habitats and the large-scale distribution and diversity of key terrestrial taxonomic groups that provide important ecosystem services. Taxa to be investigated in this context could include different groups of birds, bats, macro-moths or diurnal pollinators – or other groups for which large-scale data-sets are easily available.
In particular, the research aims to address the questions:

1. Does the presence and extend of freshwater habitats in large geographic grid cells in the UK (and/or Europe) impact on the diversity of key terrestrial taxa in this grid cell (and potentially also in neighbouring grid cells), and at what scale are these tendencies most pronounced?
2. Are effects more pronounced for lentic or lotic systems?
3. To what extend are observable effects governed by the actual quality and successional stage of small freshwater habitats, given the established trend especially for ponds to chiefly deliver services in open-water, early successional stages?

Policy Impact of Research:

We hope that the research will increase awareness of policy stakeholders for the importance of freshwater habitats and their quality to be considered in (agri-) environmental measures and other relevant conservation policy instruments.

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