Can novel arable crop rotations maximise system resilience under drought conditions?

The project aims to quantify the extent to which best practice crop rotation can increase resilience (i.e. through maintaining yields and/or improved root systems) under drought stress.

Department: Biodiversity Crops & Agro-ecosystems

Supervised by: Prof. Simon Potts

The Placement Project

Ecological intensification of agriculture aims to maintain or enhance agricultural production through the promotion of biodiversity and associated ecosystem services. Design of landscapes based on this principle has the potential to sustainably enhance food security. Crop diversification at a rotational scale is one of the proposed approaches to ecologically intensify food production and, at the same time, increase the resilience of production systems to extreme weather events under global climate change. The overall aim of this research is to evaluate a range of ecosystem services (pollination, pest regulation and soil services) associated with the relative diversity of the crop rotation. It is part of the large-scale EU LIBERATION project (Linking farmland biodiversity to ecosystem services for effective ecological intensification). The placement will specifically focus on the potential of the different rotations (simple, standard and diverse), to increase system resilience under drought conditions. The study will benefit from state of the art experimental infrastructure which is already in place at Sonning farm, where crops will be water stressed through the use of rainout shelters at critical development stages. Root length, diameter and surface area of winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) and faba bean (Vicia faba) will be measured as a proxy for water stress tolerance and yield and quality parameters measured across the three rotations on the stressed and non-stressed plots as way to evaluate the overall system resilience related to the relative diversity of each rotation.


Fieldwork will take place at Sonning Farm and all sample processing and analyses will be done at the Crops Research Unit (CRU Sonning Farm) and the Harborne labs (Whiteknights campus). The student will be working with two PhD students, Erika Degani and Sam Leigh, currently working on the project. Training for all the tasks listed below will be provided: Fieldwork: • Collect root samples using the core method. (2 days at flowering for wheat and before pod formation for beans) Lab work: • All root samples will be washed using the root washer at Sonning (2 weeks) • Root length, diameter and surface area will be measured using an image analysis software package (1 week) • Yield will be collected from the water stressed and the control plots and the samples processed so that the harvest index can be calculated (1 week) • Grain quality analyses will be carried out to determine parameters such as nitrogen content and a thousand grain weight (1 week) • The student will be given guidance on statistical analyses so they can draw conclusions from their findings (3 days)

Skills, knowledge and experience required

Qualifications: • In the process of acquiring a degree in a related subject i.e. agriculture, ecology, environmental management, biology Essential Skills and Knowledge: • Some field and lab work experience • Ability to rigorously follow protocols • Attention to detail • Ability to work independently • Genuine interest in the subject area Desirable Skills and Knowledge: • Basic knowledge of arable systems and ecosystem services concepts and experience with any of the methodology used would be an advantage.

Skills which will be developed during the placement

The student will gain field, laboratory and data analyses skills.

Place of Work

Fieldwork will take place at Sonning Farm and all sample processing and analyses will be done at the Crops Research Unit (CRU Sonning Farm) and at the Harborne labs (Whiteknights campus). Both sites are accessible by bus or bicycle from Reading. Lifts may also be available.

Hours of Work

Start and end date are flexible as it depends on the flowering and harvesting times of the crops.The student will be able to have a break between field work, root processing & yield analyses.Normal working week.Details can be discussed during interview.

Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Monday 01 June 2015 - Monday 03 August 2015

How to Apply

2 page CV and 1 page covering letter should be submitted by 31st March to Erika Degani (, applicants will be shortlisted for interview after the closing date.

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