PhD opportunity: The role of living roots and mycorrhizae on soil organic matter formation

Opportunity Type: 
Student Opportunity
Closing Date: 
Sunday, June 30, 2019

We are looking for a motivated and capable candidate for a 3-year PhD program of research in Sydney, Australia. The position is based at Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment (HIE), a research institute within Western Sydney University (www.westernsydney.edu.au/hie). Located a short distance from the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area and within commuting distance from the city of Sydney, the HIE is home to a team of over 50 academics and 80 PhD students performing impactful research in ecology and environmental science. The HIE also hosts a unique suite of world-class field and controlled environment research facilities.
The candidate will work with HIE researchers (Yolima Carrillo, Jeff Powell) and collaborate with Serita Frey and Stuart Grandy (University of New Hampshire, USA) to understand the mechanisms by which living roots and their mycorrhizal fungi influence the microbial formation of organic matter. There will be opportunities to develop skills associated with state-of-the-art techniques in soil science and microbial ecology, as well as other career development opportunities (e.g., grant and manuscript writing, data analysis and visualisation, domestic and international conference attendance).
The paradigm around soil organic matter (SOM) formation has recently shifted away from a focus on the long-term accumulation of recalcitrant plant residues in soil to a belowground and microbe-centric one. We now know that root C, not aboveground C, is the most important contributor to SOM, that C released by living roots is more effectively converted to new SOM than dead-root residues, and that most SOM is composed of microbial dead mass. These new insights are important because roots and soil microbes are known to respond to environmental stress with potential impacts on SOM formation. Mycorrhizal fungi, effectively an extension of living roots, contribute C to soil via their dead mass but also via their living biomass. However, the role of mycorrhizae as living C sources for SOM formation is poorly understood and what is known may be controversial. Within this scope the candidate is encouraged to develop further questions extending into the impact of environmental changes on these mechanisms and to make use of the field experimental facilities run by HIE. The project is envisioned to include field and growth chamber studies and application of diverse stable isotope, biogeochemical and microbial ecology approaches.
Applications are open to international candidates as well as Australian or New Zealand citizens or permanent residents of Australia.
Applicants should discuss their eligibility, interests and further steps to prepare an application with Dr. Yolima Carrillo via email at y.carrillo@westernsydney.edu.au (please include an up-to-date CV). Application deadline is June 30th. Applicants should get in contact as soon as possible to allow sufficient time to prepare a high quality scholarship application.