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Award details

“What can the paleo-record tell us about tropical peatlands?” Geography – PhD (Funded) Ref: 4428

About the award


Professor Angela Gallego-Sala, University Of Exeter

A.Prof Ted Feldpausch, University of Exeter

Prof. Toby Pennington, University of Exeter

Prof. Richard Pancost, University of Bristol

Prof. Graeme Swindles, Queen’s University, Ireland

Prof. Juan Carlos Benavides, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana de Bogota


Geography, Streatham Campus, Exeter

The University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences is inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to commence in September 2022 or as soon as possible thereafter.  The studentship will cover Home or International tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £15,609 for 3.5 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study.  The student will be based in Geography in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Streatham Campus in Exeter. 

Project Description:

Project Background:

Tropical peatlands are the most carbon-dense ecosystems in the world and they store the equivalent of ~10 years of global fossil fuel emissions in their soils (Page et al., 2011). They also provide important ecosystem services to the people living near them. Despite their importance, crucial questions remain about how they may respond to environmental and climate changes (Sjögersten et al., 2014). Improving our understanding of these ecosystems is critical as they are at high risk from both climate change and land use change. Protection and improved management of tropical peatlands can also play an important role in meeting the greenhouse gas emissions targets set out under the Paris and Glasgow Agreements.

Project Aims and Methods

The project aims to understand how past environmental and climatic drivers have affected peatland functioning in the past. This will inform how best to include peatlands in land-surface models and will allow us to better predict how the peatlands will respond to present and future climate change. Using samples collected in the Peruvian Amazon Basin (and complemented with cores from other tropical areas of the world), this PhD will investigate:

- How has peatland hydrology affected carbon cycling during the Holocene?

- How has peatland vegetation responded to climate changes in the past?

Answering these questions will involve querying the paleo-archive that is contained in peatlands. To this end, you will have access to cores from different sites in Peru and across the tropics. The PhD will train you in paleo-methods, including macrofossil analysis and testate amoeba (Swindles et al., 2018). There is also the possibility of examining the distribution of hopane isotopes and plant biomarkers to learn more about precipitation and hydrology in these as yet unexplored ecosystems. There is considerable flexibility for you to pursue different research avenues dependent on their interests.


This project will provide training in cutting-edge laboratory methods including biomarkers, testate amoeba, pollen, macrofossils and geochemistry. You will also be provided with training in field skills. You will be encouraged to participate in training courses to develop both technical and personal skills essential for a successful scientific career, including the opportunity to present your research at a major international conference.

Background reading and references

Page, S. E., Rieley, J. O. and Banks, C. J. Global and regional importance of the tropical peatland carbon pool. Global Change Biology, 17, 798–818 (2011).
Sjögersten, S., Black, C.R., Evers, S., Hoyos-Santillan, J., Wright, E.L. and Turner, B.L. Tropical wetlands: a missing link in the global carbon cycle? Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 28, 1371e1386 (2014).
Swindles, et al. Ecosystem state shifts during long‐term development of an Amazonian peatland. Global Change Biology 24 (2), 738-757 (2018).

Award Provision:

The “Grupo GGF scholarship” has been generously donated by the Peruvian Grupo GGF company. This award provides annual funding to cover Home or International tuition fees and a tax-free stipend of at least £15,609 per year tax-free stipend.

International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD.

Entry requirements

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology such as Environmental Science, Soil Science, Geography, Chemistry, Biology, Ecology, etc. 

You must be enthusiastic to organise and undertake prolonged research trips to the Peruvian Amazon and other tropical peatland areas. You must also have, or demonstrate a strong capacity to learn a good to fluent level of Spanish and good analytical skills. Prior experience of laboratory work or/and field work in the tropics and the Amazonian forests would be advantageous. We welcome applications from prospective students coming from countries in the South American/Amazonian region.

If English is not your first language you will need to meet the required level (Profile B) as per our guidance at

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents. 

• CV

• Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).

• A Research proposal (3x A4 pages outlining your understanding of what the project will entail, including a short literature review)

• Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)

• Two references from referees familiar with your academic work. If your referees prefer, they can email the reference direct to quoting the studentship reference number.

• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 14th August 2022..

Interviews will be held virtually in the week commencing 22nd August 2022.


Application deadline:14th August 2022
Number of awards:1
Value:The studentship will cover Home or International tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £15,609 for 3.5 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions Team