PhD project: Multiple stable states in ecosystem development?

Project description

Understanding how different populations interact in complex ecosystems is a central goal in ecology. Microbial systems provide an especially exciting example of this, since thousands of different species interact in even a small sample. We can track these in the lab but so far the basic theory of microbial ecology remains to be developed. Together with Dr. Andrew Free in Biological Sciences at Edinburgh, we have developed an experimental system which allows us to track the interactions between thousands of bacterial species as they interact in a model microcosm made from pond sediment and water. Our preliminary results show that the way the community assembles in these experiments can be unpredictable (for small systems but not for large systems). This suggests that there may be multistability in the basic dynamics of community development. In this project we will test experimentally whether this is the case by taking different microcosm communities and testing whether they are stable to invasion: ie whether some communities can invade others. This project would be suitable for an enthusiastic experimentalist keen to learn new techniques. Prior biological knowledge is not required. A theoretical version of the project might also be possible.

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