PhD Research Project: NERC CENTA - Resurrecting ghost ponds to fight loss of aquatic biodiversity

United Kingdom
Nov 30, 2016
Jan 23, 2017
Organization Type
University and College
Full Time

Ponds provide clean freshwater environments in farmland and are vital habitats for aquatic biodiversity covering plants, invertebrates, amphibians, fishes, and mammals 1. Recent studies conducted by University College London (UCL) show that ponds are also important for farmland birds through the provision of insect food. In short, good ponds contribute to sustain aquatic biodiversity. In addition, by facilitating the migration of species across the landscape they play a central role in maintaining genetic diversity of species. Genetic diversity has long been accepted to be the foundation of biodiversity (e.g. 2). Regrettably, many ponds have been reclaimed for farming. In the Norfolk area (UK) farming intensification has been particularly severe post World War II ( In this area, many ponds have been claimed by farmers and filled with soil thus reducing landscape connectivity and creating a shortage of water supply. Pond density in this area has decreased from 46,000 farmland ponds before 1950s to just 23,000 today (E. Alderton, unpublished data). However these ponds are not lost and often damp depressions of ‘ghost’ ponds remain in place or former water reservoirs ( Ghost ponds contain the buried sediments, seeds and eggs of the former pond community. By re-excavating these sites we may be able to fight loss of aquatic biodiversity and loss of genetic diversity at regional scale. The restoration of ghost ponds as a resource of biodiversity and genetic diversity is an itriguing one and may radically tranform conservation strategies to maintain or replenish regional bioversity.

This project will be the first to show whether the excavation of ghost ponds may contribute to fight loss of aquatic diversity, with a focus on genetic diversity of a keystone species, responsible for sustaining the food web of aquatic habitats.

The project has three main objectives:
Objective 1: Sample and characterize the genetic diversity of the keystone grazer Daphnia magna from ghost and established ponds in the Norfolk landscape.

Objective 2: Identify migration dynamics between ghost and established ponds via population genetic approaches and assess whether ghost ponds contribute to genetic diversity of established ponds.

Objective 3: Experimentally quantify the extent to which ghost ponds contribute to increase genetic diversity in the landscape.

Funding Notes

In addition to completing an online application form, you will also need to complete and submit the CENTA studentship application form available from

CENTA studentships are for 3.5 years and are funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). In addition to the full payment of their tuition fees, successful candidates will receive the following financial support.

Annual stipend, set at £14,296 for 2016/17
Research training support grant (RTSG) of £8,000

CENTA students are required to undertake from 45 days training throughout their PhD including a 10 day placement.

1. Perkins DM, Bailey RA, Dossena M, Gamfeldt L, Reiss J, Trimmer M, et al. Higher biodiversity is required to sustain multiple ecosystem processes across temperature regimes. Global Change Biol 2015, 21(1): 396-406.
2. Taberlet P, al E. Genetic diversity in widespread species is not congruent with species richness in alpine plant communities. Ecology Letter 2016, 15: 1439-1448
3. Orsini L, Spanier KI, De Meester L. Genomic signature of natural and anthropogenic stress in wild populations of the waterflea Daphnia magna: validation in space, time and experimental evolution. Molecular Ecology 2012, 21: 2160–2175.