Enhanced acorn production to regenerate native oak woodlands in the UK

PhD studentship in APD at Reading University (for 3.5 years starting 2020) is available to a UK applicant funded by and in co-operation with the Future Trees Trust (@FutureTreesUK).

Topic: understanding inter-annual variation in UK acorn production in order to improve the supply of UK acorns

Closing date: 28 June 2020

Application can be sent here.

Project Description
Interest in planting more trees has several roots, including to reduce greenhouse gases, provide a future high-quality timber supply, to improve landscape, and support habitat conservation.

The iconic native British oak species (Quercus robur and Quercus petraea) are robust and well adapted to a range of UK environmental conditions, but are now facing many pressures, such as air and soil pollutants, pests and disease, and changing weather patterns. Records show the health and survival of oak is deteriorating. In addition to this, natural regeneration is limited.

Oak is the most important broadleaved species in British forestry and the cornerstone of many valuable and much-loved ecosystems. It is the most planted broadleaf tree, and yet the supply of acorns adapted to British conditions is invariably limited. This means that sometimes imported acorns maladapted to British growing conditions are sown.

Oak is a masting species: although oak flowers every year, good seed (acorn) production only occurs every 5 – 7 years in the UK. In addition, acorns are recalcitrant – they cannot be dried to low moisture contents and so cannot be stored for long periods of time.

The aim of this PhD project is to better understand the drivers of oak masting in the UK. The ultimate objective is for that knowledge to be applied to ensure a regular, good supply of home-grown acorns for both conservation and reforestation purposes. This is important to support the regeneration of oak forests as we attempt to slow and adapt to climate change, and support UK forest ecosystems.

The key research questions are:

What are the main drivers of oak masting in the UK?

How does acorn production vary between individual trees at a local and landscape level?

To maximise production it is important for many trees to produce mature acorns each year. Oak flowers every year in the UK but acorns often do not develop. Why?

Flowering phenology: What environmental factors influence pollen and pollination and subsequent acorn development? Is pollen supply limiting? Are there differences in the two species? Seed quality – which sources and environments for acorn production result in the best oak seedlings? Can we promote annual seed production in the UK?

This is a 3.5 years duration PhD study, based in southern England, in partnership with Future Trees Trust (www.futuretrees.org) with links to the wider forest industry. It falls within the remit of Action Oak (www.actionoak.org/) under section 4 – Oak Genetic Resources, 4.2: Solving the oak regeneration crisis. There will be opportunities for presentations and liaison with members of Action Oak across many academic disciplines.

For further information please contact Prof Richard Ellis r.h.ellis@reading.ac.uk

Funding Notes
This studentship, commencing September 2020 (fees, stipend, and research expenses) is funded by Future Trees Trust; they will also contribute to the supervision of the PhD project.
UK students only; good Honours degree in a relevant discipline (e.g. Biology; Ecology; Environmental Science/Management; Agriculture; Forestry)

This opportunity requires applicants to hold a clean, full UK driving licence to conduct the research. To apply for this studentship please submit an application for a PhD in Crop Sciences mentioning the research project View Website

PHD in enhanced acorn production

Posted on the 6th May 2020 at 8:54am.