Ecological interactions in natural environments are complex, with organisms altering the local environment in ways that have direct effects on their own fitness (for example, by altering nutrient availability and the abundance of host-specific pathogens and mutualists) as well as potential competitors. 'Plant-soil feedbacks' are a special class of interactions in which individual plants modify the soil environment in a positive or negative way that has a greater impact on subsequent individuals of the same species growing in that soil than on individuals of other species. These interactions have been demonstrated to be important in temperate grasslands and tropical forests, but studies have been neglected in arid environments where these mechanisms may be especially important. The project seeks to understand the ecological and evolutionary drivers of feedbacks between soils and major primary producers in arid ecosystems (plants and biological soil crusts), with a particular focus on Spanish and Australian arid zones.
This is a collaborative project between Drs. Jeff Powell and Fernando T. Maestre. We are looking for a highly motivated candidate, which will be based at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, in Richmond (Australia), but will spend time working in the Semiarid Ecology and Global Change lab at Rey Juan Carlos University, in Móstoles (Spain). The candidate will need to apply to the midyear scholarship round of the University of Western Sydney.