Policy makers are pushing for Nature-based Solutions (NbS) to store carbon and reduce disaster risk in flood prone areas. The COP26 and recent flood events across Europe are likely to focus our minds on ecosystem-based climate change mitigation and adaptation even further.
Restoring and managing wetland, dune or riparian forest vegetation to reduce flood risk, however, requires a sound understanding of interactions between biodiversity and ecosystem functions (and hence services) to ensure resilience in a changing climate. Vegetated habitats at land-water interfaces are driven by complex interactions between plant functional traits (e.g. stem flexibility, canopy height) and abiotic landscape processes (e.g. hydrodynamics). Both, biotic (e.g. species composition) and abiotic (flooding, salinity, waves) processes in coastal (Rouger and Jump 2014) and riparian habitats are very dynamic and need to be taken into account when designing restoration for NbS. This PhD will make a key contribution to improve the predictability of such interactions with regards to provisioning of ecosystem services.
As an example, wave attenuation will largely depend on the density, rigidity, and height of the vegetation present at any given time but also on the seasonality and spatial distribution of wave energy along the coast. Additionally, such bio-physical interactions are likely to be affected long-term by changing seasonality and increasing storminess due to climate change with unknown consequences for the plant communities delivering these ecosystem services (Balke and Nilsson 2019).
The aim of this PhD studentship is to develop new fundamental understanding of the bi-directional interactions between plant traits and abiotic forcing (flooding/waves/wind/sediment transport) in a changing climate. The PhD outcomes will feed into adaptive restoration guidelines/predictive models for key habitats along land-water interfaces in the UK (coasts and rivers) to ensure biodiversity and societal benefits of restoration projects are delivered.