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Postgraduate Students

Postgraduate study
Our PhD students are registered at universities throughout the UK

Our PhD students are registered at universities throughout the UK

With more than 500 staff and 124 registered PhD students, the James Hutton Institute is one of the biggest research centres in the UK and the first of its type in Europe.

Our thriving Postgraduate School is testament to our commitment to providing the highest standard of training opportunities to UK and international students. Undertaking postgraduate studies at the James Hutton Institute provides students with valuable experience of working in a professional environment.

Name PhD Research
Angus Aitken

PhD Studentship

Modification of Plant Endomembranes by Viral Proteins

Irma Arts

Irma’s PhD research is focused on understanding the interactions between people, technology and nature. She is working on a qualitative study to understand the way digital technology is involved in outdoor activities and how this is linked to people’s identities and values. She is supervised by Anke Fischer and Dominic Duckett of the James Hutton Institute and René van der Wal of the University of Aberdeen.

As a qualified teacher Irma is, next to her PhD research, also interested in education, specifically in incorporating outdoor education into the curriculum and innovating learning environments. 

Natalie Davis
Julen Gonzalez-Redin

Julen specializes in interdisciplinary approaches towards sustainability issues, engaging with natural, social and economic scientists. He develops models to explore and provide answers regarding the socio-economic and environmental factors that may be de-coupling the economic and environmental systems, exploring potential pathways for a more sustainable development of socio-ecological systems. The modelling approaches used by Julen include Agent-based Modelling (ABM) and (spatial) Bayesian Belief Networks (BBN).

Julen is currently involved in research studying (1) the extent debt-based economies enhance unsustainable use of natural resources; (2) the impact of the current debt-driven palm oil industry in Indonesia on biodiversity and different ecosystem services; and (3) the extent future land-use scenarios in the Wet Tropics of Australia will affect biodiversity and different ecosystem services.

Nia Gray-Wannell

PhD Studentship

Surface Chemistry of Kaolin Clay Minerals and the Prediction of Soil Adsorption Properties

Wenbin Guo

PhD Studentship

Constructions of regulatory networks and integration of large scale experimental data in plants

At a cellular and molecular level, biology functions as a unified system of interacting and/or independent groups of molecules. Extensive knowledge about individual cellular components often cannot explain how a system operates at the level of the system as a whole, and thus fails to deliver successful solutions to many biological problems. With the availability of both genome sequences and high-throughput technologies such as RNA-seq and various flavours of mass spectrometry, cellular components can be detected and quantified simultaneously providing opportunities to gather accurate biological information at a range of different levels (DNA, RNA, proteins, metabolites, traits and phenotypes).

Methods for integrating and interpreting these data in a meaningful way are therefore powerful tools for identifying known and unknown links between components, in turn helping to identify genetic and molecular mechanisms that provide a more holistic understanding of the process under investigation.

The aim of the project is:

  • (a) to integrate and interpret the large scale gene data of crops in a meaningful way
  • (b) to construct gene network from experimental data
  • (c) to identify functional modules from genetic perturbations, further to use mathematical models to investigate the dynamics
  • (d) to find solutions for complex models.

Supervisors: Dr Runxuan Zhang (James Hutton Institute) and Professor John Brown (University of Dundee).

Co-supervisor: Professor Ping Lin (University of Dundee)

Will Hentley

PhD studentship Supervised by Dr Tom Shepherd, The James Hutton Institute, Dr Scott Johnson, University of Western Sydney,  Dr Adam Vanbergen and Professor Rosie Hails at CEH and Dr Hefin Jones at Cardiff University

Trophic cascades in a changing climate – Effects of elevated CO2 on the breakdown of plant defences.

Carbon dioxide emissions from anthropogenic sources have increased in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations are predicted to rise from the current 350ppm to 550ppm by 2050.

Initial evidence suggests plants will benefit from the fertilising effect of elevated levels of CO2 (eCO2), with plant productivity in C3 plants predicted to increase by 10-20%. However, recent evidence suggests increases in productivity may be counteracted by CO2-induced changes to plant defences against herbivory.

It is currently unknown how changes to plant defences will cascade to higher trophic levels within a community. How will eCO2-induced changes to plant defences affect herbivore performance? How will these alterations affect interactions with higher trophic levels? Will predatory species abundance increase in response to increased prey availability, suppressing any change to herbivore populations, or will eCO2-induced reduction of plant defences prevent this?

My PhD will aim to provide answers to these questions by using the red raspberry, Rubus ideaus and the large raspberry aphid Amphorophora idaei as a model plant-herbivore system. I will investigate the effect of eCO2 on higher trophic levels by using a specialist predator, a parasitoid wasp, Aphidius ervi, and a generalist predator, the harlequin ladybird, Harmonia axyridis.

Kirsty Holstead

My work expands a number of themes, many of which are interdisciplinary including:

  • Water and flood management including natural flood management
  • Transition to a low carbon society, including the role of grassroots initiatives
  • Natural resource governance
  • Community renewable energy production 
  • Land management and agriculture

In all these areas I use qualitative and mixed methods, with a particular interest in participatory methods. I am a trained and experienced facilitator. 

Past research projects:

  • EU FP7 FarmPath
  • Scottish Government RESAS Theme 1 Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity: Ecosystem Approach Review and WP1.2. Assessment of monetary and non-monetary values of ecosystem services and transferability.
  • In 2013/2014 I was a facilitator for the Ecosystem Approach Working Group (EAWG), as part of the Scottish Government’s research on ecosystem services. The main role of the EAWG is to facilitate research partnerships, knowledge exchange and collaboration between researchers, government agencies, NGOs and policy makers working in the area of natural resource management and ecosystem services.
  • Scottish Government RESAS Theme 3 - 3.6 Understanding land managers’ attitudes and behaviour towards the management of environmental assets and responding to climate change
Elliot Hurst
Petra Lackova
Rod Lovie
Mariana Melnykovych

Mariana’s primary interest is in scientific research in the fields of natural resource economics and ecological economics, policy and management, institutions, governance, attitudes and behaviours, participatory and ethnographic research, social security and communities’ well-being, stakeholder evaluation and engagement, sustainable development, multifunctional forestry and sustainable management and use of natural assets, land use and landscape changes, and rural and regional developments in mountain regions, particularly taking into account multiple ecosystem goods and services.

A particular research focus of Mariana’s PhD thesis (supervised by Prof. Ihor Soloviy, from the Institute of Ecological Economics and Management, UNFU and Prof. Maria Nijnik from the Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences (SEGS) Group, James Hutton Institute) is on socio- ecological-economic indicators of the development of rural communities in marginalized rural (e.g. remote and forested) areas to evaluate the communities’ well-being.


Mariana is the Country Contact for Ukraine in the European Society for Ecological Economics - ESEE (i.e. the European branch of the International Society of Ecological Economics, ISEE) and she is a member of European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists (EAERE). She is a member of the Mountain Research Initiative's (MRI) Experts Database, and a member of the Scientific Society for the Carpathians (S4C); of the FAO research network coordinated by the Forestry Department and of the Mountain Partnership Secretariat on Sustainable Management of Mountain Areas – IPROMO (International Programme on Research and Training on Sustainable Management of Mountains). Mariana co-organized (with Prof. M. Nijnik from the James Hutton Institute, UK) the session on Ecosystem services and the well-being of forest-dependent communities: enhancing social innovation and building resilience to global changes in marginalized rural areas for International Union of Forest Research Organizations, IUFRO 125th Anniversary Congress (Freiburg, Germany, September, 19-22, 2017).

Camilla Negri

I am interested in water and phosphorus management at catchment scale and the use of Bayesian Networks in environmental science. My current PhD project is a joint collaboration between The James Hutton Institute and Teagasc- the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland. 

Samuel Peter Poskitt

Doctoral Research: Scenario planning, what is it good for? Investigating the benefits scenario planning may have for managing wicked problems.

Unsustainable relationships between humans and environments have led to significant problems that cross the boundaries between human and environmental systems. Such problems are characterised by multiple drivers that interact in complex ways and by uncertain pathways and conditions in the future. In the past two decades, scenario planning (the creation of multiple, plausible narratives that describe potential future conditions) has become an increasingly popular tool for helping manage such problems. However, it remains unclear exactly how and by what mechanisms scenario planning may help manage complex human and environmental problems. Sam’s PhD explores the use of participatory scenario planning as a tool for managing such complex and uncertain problems in human and environmental systems. Specifically, he explores learning in PSP, how learning occurs and what exactly is learned by whom in scenario planning processes.

Sam's PhD is supervised at the James Hutton Institute by Dr Kerry Waylen, and at the University of Reading by Dr Andrew Ainslie.

Grace Remmington

I am doing my PhD on community perspectives with wastewater services in rural Scotland. My PhD explores the potential to implement a co-production approach to decision-making for rural services, particularly wastewater. My current research interests are on incorporating local knowledge and engaging non-experts in water and wastewater issues. I am also particularly interested the coproduction of knowledge for rural service provision and alternative forms of governance and management of rural systems. 

Shona Strachan

The project is focused on finding natural resistant toward the potato cyst nematode (PCN) Globodera pallida. PCN are major plant pathogens, particularly for potato growers in Northern Europe. Withdrawal of nematicides under EU legislation (EU 91/77/EEC) has intensified the need for alternative control strategies.

The Pa1 pathotype of G. pallida was considered to have a limited distribution in a small area of Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, recent molecular characterisation of field cysts led to the conclusion that itis more widespread than originally thought, increasing the need for an effective control strategy.

Resistance from S. multidissectum PH1366, a wild relate of the domesticated S. tuberosum (potato), was found to contain the resistance gene H2 which confers high resistance to Pa1. The H2 gene is considered to be dominant and occur at a single locus, and has never been mapped to the potato genome.

The main aim of the project is to map the location of H2 onto the potato genome, followed by identifying potential putative effector targets which may trigger the H2 resistance pathway.

Andrew Tweedie

PhD Studentship

Soil Macronutrient Cycles Beneath Our Feet: Predicting How Soil Carbon and Nitrogen Manipulation Regulates Phosphorus Cycling for Environmental Benefits

Patrizia Vannucchi

The aim of my PhD project is to develop molecular tools which will significantly simplify and accelerate species identification of mites. At present, most ecological studies involving mite rely upon species identification using their morphology to differentiate between taxa which is a time consuming and laborious process. A few recent studies using molecular approaches to examine soil animal diversity have included mites but due to their small size relative to many other soil animals, the proportion of mites recovered in these samples is very small. In addition, there is no reference data set of sequences from correctly identified mites.

This project aims to address these issues. The first of these problems could be overcome by using a molecular approach that specifically targets the DNA of mites, thus only mite DNA would be sequenced from environmental samples. The second problem can be addressed by creating a database of sequences that are derived from collections of mites identified by experts in mite identification.

By tackling and solving these problems, it will be possible to rapidly assess the composition of mite communities in environmental samples and greatly enhance their use and importance as ecological indicators of environmental changes.

Elizabeth Young

PhD Studentship

My PhD research investigates spatial and temporal variations in the sensitivity of machair soils and landforms on the island of South Uist, in the southern Outer Hebrides. The machair landscape provides an important habitat for many rare and endangered species, and is vulnerable to marine and aeolion erosion. Understanding variations in the soils and coastal geomorphology which influence sensitivity to erosion may contribute to improved management of the unique machair system.

Supervisors: Dr Sue Dawson (University of Dundee) and Dr Blair McKenzie (James Hutton Institute).

Oliver Zwirner

Printed from /staff/postgraduate on 26/09/21 02:39:46 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.