PhD position – pollen forecasting

University of Exeter, UK
Closing date: 8 January 2021

Project Background

As our climate and land use changes, so does the relationship between biodiversity and human wellbeing. This PhD will tackle the interface between biology, ecology, meteorology and human health, to understand the consequences of environmental change for both the UK’s countryside and the millions who suffer from hay fever and pollen allergies. This project will reveal the environmental conditions that determine the ecology of allergenic plants in both cities and countryside, and which trigger the onset of pollen allergies. The project will also have an extremely important impact on the lives of the ten million people in the UK whose health is affected by pollen, by improving the UK pollen forecast provided by the Met Office. You will learn field skills through plant surveys and experiments, and advanced analytical skills by developing new biological an atmospheric models of pollen transport. You will also gain experience in the interdisciplinary approach to science that is increasingly important in our rapidly changing world.

Project Aims and Methods

This project will improve our ability to forecast pollen concentrations by studying when and where wind-borne pollen is released into the atmosphere by plants and how and where it is dispersed.  It will involve both field studies and mathematical modelling of allergenic plants, to reveal the synergy amongst processes at extremely small-scales (e.g. pollen release from a single flower head), mid-scales (e.g. the density of flowers in cities or countrysides), and extremely large scales (e.g. atmospheric movement of pollen over many kilometres).  Key methods will involve: setting up and running controlled field experiments to measure the daily and seasonal cycles of pollen release in a range of species of plants and their response to weather and climate; carrying out extensive field surveys and developing species distribution models (SDMs) to estimate the changing density of key pollenproducing species within rural and urban landscapes; implementing and validating the Met Office numerical dispersion model (NAME) to predict long-distance transport of pollen grains.  It is expected that you will develop skills in both biological field work and mathematical modelling, but there is scope for you to develop the project to suit your existing skills and areas of interest.

Candidate requirements

The successful candidate should have a degree in a science subject or mathematics, have good numerical skills and an interest in biology and ecology. Experience in carrying out ecological fieldwork and/or working with mathematical models of physical or biological systems would be an advantage, as well as enthusiasm and a willingness to learn new skills.


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