Project highlights

Innovative Urban Solutions: Addressing urbanisation’s challenges, the project explores the potential of Miyawaki Forests to counter pollution, heat, and green space loss, offering a pioneering approach to urban planning. 

Holistic Urban Impact Assessment: Uncovering the broader effects of Miyawaki Forests, the study combines social perceptions, soil analysis, biogeochemistry, and microclimate monitoring to provide a comprehensive understanding of their influence on urban ecosystems. 

Transdisciplinary Training: The studentship offers multidisciplinary training, equipping the researcher with skills in urban ecology, social science, soil analysis, biogeochemistry, and stakeholder engagement, empowering them to contribute to sustainable urban planning and decision-making. 


The rapid pace of urbanisation is reshaping the global landscape, leading to profound environmental and social challenges. As cities expand, they often experience increased pollution, heat island effects, reduced green spaces, and altered microclimates. These changes adversely affect both human well-being and ecosystem health. In response, innovative approaches to urban planning and green space design are being sought to mitigate the negative impacts of urbanisation. 

Miyawaki Forests, named after Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki, offer a promising solution. These densely planted urban forests aim to mimic natural ecosystems by incorporating a diverse mix of native plant species in a compact area. Unlike traditional urban forestry practices, which focus on monoculture tree planting, Miyawaki Forests promote biodiversity and ecosystem complexity.  

It is widely assumed that these forests offer a multitude of benefits, encompassing carbon sequestration, improved air and water quality, enhanced microclimates, and the establishment of natural habitats in densely populated urban areas. Nonetheless, additional research is required to precisely determine the extent of these advantages. The establishment of these forests can potentially have far-reaching effects on both the social fabric of communities and the intricate biogeochemical cycles that underpin urban ecosystems. As urban planners and policymakers consider the adoption of Miyawaki Forests as a tool for urban greening, there is a critical need to understand the broader implications and trade-offs associated with their implementation. 

This PhD studentship will fill this knowledge gap by undertaking a comprehensive investigation into the social, pedological, and biogeochemical impacts of establishing Miyawaki Forests in urban areas. By uncovering the multiple dimensions of these impacts, this research will contribute to informed decision-making in urban planning and green space management. It will also aid in understanding the potential role of Miyawaki Forests in fostering more sustainable, resilient, and liveable urban environments in the face of global environmental changes. 


University of Warwick


  • Climate and Environmental Sustainability
  • Organisms and Ecosystems


Project investigator

Ryan Mushinski, University of Warwick, [email protected]


Earthwatch-Europe (Claire Narraway, [email protected]; & Sophie Cowling, [email protected]) 

 Daniel Evans, Cranfield University, [email protected] 

How to apply


Social Impact: Collaborate with Earthwatch-Europe to assess urban perceptions of Miyawaki Forests, analysing well-being, community engagement, and aesthetic preferences.   

Soil Science: Extract soil samples from Miyawaki Forests and analyse physical (e.g., structure, texture, bulk density, water holding capacity), chemical (e.g., pH, nutrients) and biological (e.g., organic matter, microbial biomass) indicators of soil quality.  

Biogeochemical Cycling: Analyse plant and soil samples for carbon, nitrogen, and nutrients, deploying soil gas and water sampling for carbon sequestration, nitrogen cycling, revealing microbial biogeochemistry and trace gas fluxes.  

Microclimate Analysis: Use sensors and loggers for continuous microclimate monitoring, analysing differences in temperature, humidity, and air quality.  

Integration and Synthesis: Merge social, soil, and biogeochemical data, aligning perceptions with ecological impacts. Interpret holistically with multidisciplinary experts. Suggest urban planners, policymakers, and stakeholders utilise findings to address benefits, challenges, and trade-offs of urban Miyawaki Forests. 

Training and skills

Students will be awarded CENTA2 Training Credits (CTCs) for participation in CENTA2-provided and ‘free choice’ external training. One CTC equates to 1⁄2 day session and students must accrue 100 CTCs across the three years of their PhD.  

This interdisciplinary PhD project offers comprehensive training in urban ecology, social science, soil analysis, biogeochemistry, sensor deployment, and stakeholder engagement. The PhD student will gain expertise in urban ecology principles, social perception surveys, soil analysis, biogeochemical techniques, and microclimate monitoring. The student will collaborate with social scientists and multidisciplinary experts and develop skills in data integration, holistic interpretation, and effective communication. The student will also acquire project management skills for efficient research execution. By the end of the PhD, the student will be well positioned to tackle complex urban challenges, provide actionable recommendations, and contribute to sustainable urban planning. 

Partners and collaboration

EarthwatchEurope is a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to engaging people in scientific research and conservation efforts to address pressing environmental challenges. Founded in 1971, EarthwatchEurope operates as part of the broader Earthwatch Institute network and focuses specifically on initiatives and projects within Europe. The organisation’s primary mission is to promote citizen science by involving volunteers from various backgrounds in hands-on research projects that aim to better understand and protect the natural world. Earthwatch Europe collaborates with scientists, researchers, and experts to design and conduct field research programs that span a wide range of environmental topics, including biodiversity conservation, climate change, wildlife conservation, and sustainable resource management. 

Further details

Further details on how to contact the supervisor for this project and how to apply for this project can be found here: 

For any enquiries related to this project please contact Ryan Mushinski, University of Warwick, [email protected].

Mushinski Group (Environmental Processes Laboratory) Website: 

Earthwatch Europe Website: 

Daniel Evans Research Profile: 

To apply to this project: 

  • You must include a CENTA studentship application form, downloadable from: CENTA Studentship Application Form 2024. 
  • You must include a CV with the names of at least two referees (preferably three) who can comment on your academic abilities. 
  • Please submit your application and complete the host institution application process via: Complete the online application form – selecting course code P-C1PB (Life Sciences PhD); from here you will be taken through to another screen where you can select your desired project. Please enter “NERC studentship” in the Finance section and add Nikki Glover, [email protected] as the scholarship contact. Please also complete the CENTA application form 2024 and submit via email to [email protected].  Please quote CENTA 2024-W17  when completing the application form. 

Applications must be submitted by 23:59 GMT on Wednesday 10th January 2024. 

Possible timeline

Year 1

Months 1-4: Literature review and project planning, refining research objectives and methodologies. 

Months 5-8: Collaborate with Earthwatch-Europe to design engagement and nature-connectedness experiments. 

Months 9-12: Launch urban perception surveys, engage urban communities, and collect data. 

 Outcome: Data collection from urban surveys; preliminary engagement with stakeholders. 

Year 2

Months 13-16: Analyse social perception data to understand well-being, engagement, and aesthetic preferences. 

Months 13-24: Conduct soil sampling campaigns at Miyawaki Forest and control sites. 

Months 13-24: Analyse soil properties and uncover differences in structure, fertility, and carbon movement. 

 Outcome: Social perception trends; comprehensive soil analysis results. 

Year 3

Months 25-28: Collect plant and soil samples for biogeochemical and pedological analyses. 

Months 29-36: Field sampling to integrate microbial biogeochem, and trace gas fluxes. Bioinformatic analysis 

Months 29-36: Monitor microclimates using sensors, analysing temperature, humidity, and air quality differences. 

 Outcome: Soil and biogeochemical insights; microclimate data interpretation. 


Concluding Activities: 

Months 37-39: Integrate social, soil, and biogeochemical data, identifying correlations and trends. 

Months 40-42: Collaborate with multidisciplinary experts to holistically interpret integrated results. 

Months 40-42: Develop recommendations, addressing benefits, challenges, and trade-offs. 

Outcome: Integrated findings; actionable recommendations. 


Months 36-42: Thesis writing, manuscript preparation, and dissemination of research findings through scientific publications and presentations. 

 This timeline ensures a structured and phased approach to conducting comprehensive research, data collection, analysis, interpretation, and synthesis, leading to informed recommendations for urban planning and green space management. 

Further reading

Miyawaki, A. (1998). Restoration of urban green environments based on the theories of vegetation ecology. Ecological Engineering, 11(1-4): 157-165.   

 Nowak, D. J., Hirabayashi, S., Bodine, A., & Greenfield, E. (2014). Tree and forest effects on air quality and human health in the United States. Environmental Pollution, 193, 119-129. 

 Ouyang, Z., Zheng, H., Xiao, Y., Polasky, S., Liu, J., Xu, W., … & Daily, G. C. (2016). Improvements in ecosystem services from investments in natural capital. Science, 352(6292): 1455-1459. 

 Li, D., & Sullivan, W. C. (2016). Impact of views to school landscapes on recovery from stress and mental fatigue. Landscape and Urban Planning, 148: 149-158. 

 Lyytimäki, J., & Sipilä, M. (2009). Hopping on one leg – The challenge of ecosystem disservices for urban green management. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 8(4): 309-315 

Escobedo, F. J., Kroeger, T., & Wagner, J. E. (2011). Urban forests and pollution mitigation: Analyzing ecosystem services and disservices. Environmental Pollution, 159(8-9): 2078-2087.