Post Details: Post-doctoral Research Fellow in Terrestrial Ecosystem Science (specifically, Plant-Soil Interactions): Fixed term contract for 42 months. The closing date for applications is midnight on Monday 17 April 2023. Interviews dates are to be confirmed. There is an expectation that work will be undertaken in the UK.  For the purposes of sponsorship, this is a postdoctoral role under SOC code 2119.

The University of Stirling recognises that a diverse workforce benefits and enriches the work, learning and research experiences of the entire campus and greater community. We are committed to removing barriers and welcome applications from those who would contribute to further diversification of our staff and ensure that equality, diversity and inclusion is woven into the substance of the role. We strongly encourage applications from people from diverse backgrounds including gender, identity, race, age, class, and ethnicity.

The Post

Applications are invited for a Postdoctoral Research Fellow (PDRF) to work with Professor Philip Wookey for a period of up to 42 months on the ‘MYCONET’ project. This NERC funded project aims to understand how the highly organic soils of northern latitudes will respond to increased abundance of trees and woody shrubs. MYCONET will focus on the role of the ‘mycorrhizosphere’ (the soil and organisms directly influenced by roots and their mycorrhizal fungi) in determining the carbon balance of these globally important soil carbon stores. 

The overarching hypothesis of MYCONET is that associated changes in the mycorrhizosphere with tree and shrub establishment could, paradoxically, result in net losses, rather than gains, of soil carbon (C) over timescales of relevance to the Climate Emergency: This would represent a ‘positive feedback’ on climate change.

The position will be based in the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences at the University of Stirling (UK). This is a collaborative project involving Co-Investigators Dr Lorna Street (University of Edinburgh), Drs Thomas Parker and Andy Taylor (James Hutton Research Institute (JHI), Aberdeen) and project partners Dr Karina Clemmensen and Professor Björn Lindahl (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala) and Dr Mark Garnett (University of Glasgow and National Environmental Isotope Facility (NEIF), East Kilbride).

In the project, the PDRF will apply ground-breaking techniques in the use – and innovative experimental deployment – of natural abundance (and depleted) radiocarbon (14C), together with metagenomics, soil and root-tip enzyme assays and soil organic matter (SOM) analyses, to quantify and understand the processes and dynamics of the mycorrhizosphere and how these affect soil organic C stocks. The research will focus on the process of ‘priming’ (which occurs when material added to soil affects the rate of decomposition of SOM, either positively or negatively), and the specific role of mycorrhizal fungi in this, and related, processes.

The MYCONET team will measure these processes both in situ (in the Arctic and the UK uplands) and in controlled experiments (using specific combinations of tree, shrub and mycorrhizal symbionts), as part of an integrated package of mechanistic studies, soil profile analysis and dynamic SOM modelling, to quantify and understand how priming works, and the implications for SOM dynamics, ecosystem C fluxes, and nutrient cycling.

Potential applications and benefits – By applying ground-breaking techniques MYCONET has potential to transform our understanding of plant-soil interactions and the role of mycorrhizal fungi in SOM dynamics. The fundamental new knowledge gained could significantly improve regional and global modelling of climate-biogeochemical interactions, with a particular focus on the indirect effects of shifting plant communities. The project has relevance for the pan-Arctic ‘shrubification’, as well as for ecosystems being managed for C-sequestration or ‘re-wilding’ in the Scottish Uplands.

Tackling the project’s aims will be through close collaboration with the broader UK and international MYCONET team. The PDRF will be central to the project team and will work with the Principal and Co-Investigators, and Project Partners, to produce the scientific (datasets, research papers and reports, and conference/workshop presentations) and the societal impact deliverables.

Description of Duties

The post holder will be based in Stirling but spend a significant proportion of their time at the University of Edinburgh, in particular, and at the JHI in Aberdeen. Furthermore, in addition to undertaking fieldwork in the Scottish Highlands and in Swedish Lapland, the PDRF will visit the Project Partners in Uppsala, Sweden, to complement experience gained with the team at JHI on fungal community analysis. Natural abundance Radiocarbon determinations will be led by Project Partner Mark Garnett at NEIF (East Kilbride), but the PDRF will also receive expert on-site training there on sample preparation and analysis.

The PDRF will be joining an enthusiastic and welcoming team, with a broad spectrum of complementary expertise, incorporating researchers at a range of career stages and with excellent international contact networks. Team members are well qualified to provide support and mentorship, and the career development of the PDRF will be a key priority of MYCONET.

The PDRF will have full access to the University of Stirling’s training and career development programme under its Institute for Advanced Studies, as well as access to cross-institutional development opportunities afforded by Stirling’s leadership of the recently launched British Academy Early Career Researcher Network Scotland Hub. The PDRF will be encouraged to contribute to internal teaching programmes and technical workshops and conferences, where appropriate.

Please contact Prof Philip Wookey (  with any enquiries.

  • Description of Duties
  • Plan and carry out fieldwork in Swedish Lapland and the Scottish Highlands, with direct involvement and guidance from mentors on the project team
  • Plan and carry out controlled experiments (in the field and in the lab) and dynamic SOM modelling, with direct involvement and guidance from mentors on the project team
  • Carry out SOM analyses (properties and element contents), soil and root-tip enzyme assays and metagenomics of soil fungal communities; training will be provided for more specialised methods
  • Sample and prepare SOM, carbon dioxide and dissolved organic C samples for radiocarbon (14-C) analysis; specialist training will be provided at the NEIF, East Kilbride
  • Communicate effectively with all team members and Project Partners in the UK and Sweden
  • Liaise with logistical and technical support staff of the Abisko Scientific Research Station team (Sweden) and relevant staff at the Universities of Stirling and Edinburgh, and the JHI,  to set up field sampling and experiments, and to oversee logistics of fieldwork in Scotland and in Sweden
  • Collect, synthesise and statistically evaluate data relevant to project goals
  • Lead a number of high-impact publications from the project

Essential Criteria

  • A PhD in ecology, biogeochemistry or other relevant environmental/ecological science
  • A background in soil and/or vegetation analysis, ecophysiology or ecosystem carbon dynamics
  • A willingness to conduct fieldwork in remote and potentially challenging locations
  • A willingness to develop soil and root-tip enzyme analyses and to conduct metagenomic analyses of soil fungal communities
  • A willingness to learn about and to deploy cutting-edge techniques in natural-abundance radiocarbon analyses
  • A willingness to develop ecological (specifically, dynamic soil organic matter) modelling techniques
  • Excellent communication skills [oral and written], including public presentations and the ability to communicate complex data/concepts clearly and concisely
  • Demonstrable experience of publishing and the peer-review process
  • Excellent interpersonal skills including team working and a collegiate approach

Desirable Criteria

  • Experience of fieldwork in remote locations
  • Experience of process-based modelling
  • Possession of an up-to-date driver’s license
  • Experience of adapting own skills to new circumstances

Behaviours and Competencies

The role holder will be required to evidence that they can meet the qualities associated with the following behavioural competencies, as detailed within the AUA Competency Framework.

  • Managing self and personal skills
  • Being aware of your own behaviour and mindful of how it impacts on others, enhancing personal skills to adapt professional practice accordingly.
  • Delivering excellent service
  • Providing the best quality service to external and internal clients. Building genuine and open long-term relationships in order to drive up service standards.

    Finding solutions

  • Taking a holistic view and working enthusiastically to analyse problems and to develop workable solutions. Identifying opportunities for innovation.
  • Embracing change
  • Being open to and engaging with new ideas and ways of working. Adjusting to unfamiliar situations, shifting demands and changing roles.
  • Using resources effectively
  • Identifying and making the most productive use of resources including people, time, information, networks and budgets.
  • Engaging with the wider context
  • Enhancing your contribution to the organisation through an understanding of the bigger picture and showing commitment to organisational values.
  • Developing self and others
  • Showing commitment to own ongoing professional development. Supporting and encouraging others to develop their professional knowledge, skills and behaviours to enable them to reach their full potential.

    Working together

  • Working collaboratively with others in order to achieve objectives. Recognising and valuing the different contributions people bring to this process.
  • Achieving Results
  • Consistently meeting agreed objectives and success criteria. Taking personal responsibility for getting things done.

About Us

The Faculty of Natural Sciences (FNS) encompasses the Divisions of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Computing Science and Mathematics, Psychology and the Institute of Aquaculture. FNS is a distinctive academic arena where new fundamental understandings of the complex and challenging inter-relationships between human behaviours, technologies, biological and environmental systems are created, explored and tested. The most recent national assessment of research – REF2021 -confirmed that 80% of our research is classed as world leading and internationally excellent.

It is supported through UK Research Councils, European Union and a range of research charities We work with businesses and public service organisations both at home and overseas to achieve direct and positive outcomes for society across a range of critical problems. Substantial investment aligned with the City, Region, and Growth deals is supporting major new infrastructure developments linked to the Faculty including Scotland’s International Environment Centre and the National Aquaculture Technology and Innovation Hub.

The University

The University of Stirling is committed to providing education with a purpose and carrying out research which has a positive impact on communities across the globe – addressing real issues, providing solutions and helping to shape society. Stirling is 4thin Scotland and 43rdin the UK for research impact, with 87% of its research having an outstanding or very considerable impact on society – and more than 80% rated either world leading or internationally excellent (Research Excellence Framework 2021). Interdisciplinary in its approach, Stirling’s research informs its teaching curriculum and facilitates opportunities for knowledge exchange and collaboration between staff, students, industry partners and the wider community.

The University of Stirling is ranked among the top 30 UK universities for student satisfaction (National Student Survey) and top 10 in the UK for postgraduate student experience (Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey), and has an overall five-star rating in the QS Stars University Ratings.

More than 17,000 students study with the University of Stirling globally, with over 120 nationalities represented on its scenic central Scotland campus alone. The campus – also home to 1,700 staff – has its own loch and castle, and a recent multi-million-pound redevelopment has delivered modern, flexible, and digitally connected study and social spaces at the heart of campus, including enhanced student support and retail and catering outlets.

The University has twice been recognised with a Queen’s Anniversary Prize – the first for its Institute for Social Marketing and Health (2014) and the second for its Institute of Aquaculture (2019).

Stirling is Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence and its recently redeveloped world-class facilities provide the perfect training environment for the University’s sports scholars – many of whom compete at the highest level, including at the Olympics and Commonwealth Games – and for students, staff, and the wider community.

As a signatory to the £214 million Stirling and Clackmannanshire City Region Deal, the University is driving productivity and inclusive growth across the Forth Valley, and beyond. Through pioneering collaborative solutions to global challenges, researchers are putting innovation, skills, and partnership at the heart of a sustainable economic recovery.


Closing date: 17-Apr-2023

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