“Assessing system resilience under climate change in novel crop rotations using infrared and root scanning techniques”

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: Agri-Environment

Supervised by: Prof. Simon G. Potts

The Placement Project

The design of landscapes based on ecological intensification of agriculture, which aims to maintain or enhance agricultural production through the promotion of biodiversity and associated ecosystem services, can potentially enhance food security sustainably. Crop diversification at a rotational scale is one approach proposed as a way 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 the PhD project is to evaluate a range of ecosystem 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 already in place at Sonning farm, where the crops will be water stressed through the use of rainout shelters at critical development stages. Root length density and canopy temperature of winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) 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). 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: • Weekly assessment of crop growth stage • Collection of root samples using the core method • Measurement of canopy temperature using infrared techniques • Yield collection Lab work: • All root samples will be washed using the root washer at Sonning • Root length density will be measured using an image analysis software package (WinRhizo) • Yield processing • Grain quality analyses Office work: • The student will be given guidance on statistical analyses so they can draw conclusions from their findings

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 • Flexibility 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

Training will be provided in root length density measurement, canopy temperature measurement using an infrared camera, harvest index calculation and grain quality analyses (i.e. nitrogen content, thousand grain weight). Statistical analyses guidance will be given so that the student can analyse their data and draw conclusions from the results. The student will benefit from being part of an established long-term PhD project as data collected from the experiment will be put into the broader context of the PhD and published in peer-reviewed publications, thus giving the student the opportunity to potentially co-author a scientific paper.

Place of Work

All the work will take place at the Crops Research Unit (CRU Sonning Farm). The site is accessible by bus or bicycle from Reading. Lifts will normally be available.

Hours of Work


Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Monday 13 June 2016 - Tuesday 13 September 2016

How to Apply

CV and covering letter should be submitted to Erika Degani (, applicants will be shortlisted for interview after the closing date.

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