Project highlights

  • Solution focused research aimed to protect and restore the habitat which reptile populations depend on.
  • Strong international collaboration, with international secondment, and exciting field-based opportunities that support a wider research programme in boreal ecohydrology.
  • Interdisciplinary research connecting the fields of conservation ecology and hydrology.


The Georgian Bay Biosphere Mnidoo Gamii comprises the world’s largest freshwater archipelago and a complex combination of wetlands, forests and open rock barrens. The wetlands in this region include open-water coastal wetlands, inland riparian swamps, shallow marshes, peatland bogs and fens, and ephemeral wetlands.  This UNESCO Biosphere on traditional Anishinaabek territory is a region of global ecological significance and a biodiversity hotspot providing habitat for many reptile species at risk including critical nesting and overwintering sites for freshwater turtles. The availability of suitable nesting and overwintering sites (i.e., habitats with specific biophysical attributes that support essential life stages) are vital to species survival and recovery.  The loss and degradation of these habitats are of considerable concern in a region that is undergoing unprecedented development and climate change disturbance, including a >11,000-ha wildfire that burned along the eastern shoreline of Georgian Bay in 2018.

NOBEL, the Nibi (Water) Observatory for Boreal Ecohydrological Landscapes, was established in 2010 to better understand the ecohydrological and hydrometeorological controls on eastern Boreal Shield wetlands and rock barrens ecosystem form and function. With over 10 hydrometeorological towers and over 75 instrumented wetlands and mini-watersheds, NOBEL is Ontario’s only water observatory dedicated to water, at-risk reptile habitat and carbon sequestration science. Further details of the study sites and the wider research being undertaken by the McMaster research team in which you will be embedded can be viewed here:

The hydrological and thermal conditions of nesting and overwintering sites are significant determinants of their suitability for reptiles. However, microclimatic conditions differ significantly among natural habitat and sites created in the years post disturbance or through restoration. Most notably, trees influence the water balance and thermal dynamics of these habitats, primarily impacting shading, transpiration losses and wind flow pattern (sheltering). However, tree growth is slow and, as a result, these impacts will differ substantially depending on the maturity of the surrounding tree canopy (or time since disturbance). Through a combination of field and modelling approaches, this project aims to determine the impact of this tree canopy on nesting and overwintering habitat suitability and identify restoration and intervention solutions to rapidly optimise hydrological and thermal conditions that maximise habitat suitability for reptile species at risk.

Georgian Bay study region showing diverse habitat of lakes, forest, peatlands and bare rock, and a Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii).
Figure 1: Example of rock barren habitat east of Georgian Bay where the project research will be conducted, with species at risk including the Blanding’s turtle (Emydoidea blandingii).



University of Birmingham


  • Climate and Environmental Sustainability
  • Organisms and Ecosystems


Project investigator

Prof. Nicholas Kettridge,University of Birmingham ([email protected])


How to apply


The research takes a mixed-methods approach to address the research need, combining field-based measurements and manipulation with computer-based simulations. The patchwork landscapes of the Georgian Bay Biosphere offers a unique opportunity to undertake experimental field-based studies with extremely high levels of independent replication, all within close proximity. The research will make extensive use of this, building both on data collected to date and supplementing this with targeted field-based measurements of turtle habitat hydroclimates. This may include specialised instrumentation including auto chambers, distributed temperature sensing or sensor networks to address key system ecohydrological feedbacks and functions. This data will be used to populate and evaluate BETA, the Boreal Ecohydrological Tree Algorithm. This model will be applied to simulate the ecological and hydrological conditions of turtle nesting and overwintering habitats, with a specific focus of the impact of trees and habitat patches of different sizes and arrangements.

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.

In addition to the formalised training provided through CENTA, the successful candidate will be embedded within the Birmingham and McMaster Ecohydrology research groups and Waterloo Wildlife Ecohydrology and Conservation Lab, providing extensive informal training and support throughout the course of the PhD. They will work within the wider Ecology group within Birmingham, bring extensive support and discussions around the diversity of research activities within the School.  This will be accompanied by formalised training provided as necessary to support the student in key areas, depending on their background and experience to date.

Partners and collaboration

The research will cement a transatlantic collaboration between Birmingham and McMaster universities that are both global leaders in ecohydrological research. In addition to funding provided through CENTA, the project will bid for complementary funds from the recently announced BirMac fund (£70k per annum), that supports the development of high-quality research projects between Birmingham and McMaster. Research undertaken at NOBEL is supported by Magnetawan First Nation, Shawanaga First Nation, and Georgian Bay Biosphere Mnidoo Gamii project partners.

Further details

Please add project/institutional contact details including a link to the application website if applicable

If you wish to apply to the project, applications should include:

  • A CV with the names of at least two referees (preferably three and who can comment on your academic abilities)
  • Submit your application and complete the host institution application process via: and go to Apply Now in the PhD Geography and Environmental Science (CENTA) section. Please quote CENTA23_B29 when completing the application form.

Applications to be received by the end of the day on Wednesday 11th January 2023. 

Additional information for international applicants

  • All international applicants must ensure they can fulfil the University of Birmingham’s international student entry requirements, which includes English language requirements.  For further information please visit
  • Please be aware that CENTA funding will only cover University fees at the level of support for Home-fee eligible students.  The University is only able to waive the difference on the international fee level for a maximum of two successful international applicants.

Possible timeline

Year 1

Refinement of research project and development of research aims and objectives both in line with the expertise and interests of the student. Detailed analysis and investigation of the research literature and the formulation of the experimental design. Early visit to McMaster University and NOBEL to meet the wider team in person and to see the observatory first hand. Installation of initial field-based infrastructure. Formulation of proposal to the BirMac Fund.

Year 2

Secondment to McMaster University. Refinement of BETA to represent the hydroclimatic and ecological environment of the nesting and overwintering habitats and subsequent evaluation of field-based measurements. Identification of key feedback(s) for more detailed investigation with targeted field-based methods i.e. through field base manipulations or advanced measurement approaches (e.g. auto chambers, distributed temperature sensing or sensor networks).

Year 3

Completion of the remaining papers for publication and submission of PhD thesis. Creation of a restoration briefing document outlining the implications of the project’s research findings for the conservation of at-risk reptile habitat. Dissemination of findings, interconnected with wider research of the team, to key stakeholders to support restoration efforts, to limit the impact of disturbances associated with landscape management, wildfire and changing climatic conditions across the Georgian Bay Biosphere.

Further reading


The research teams have been working in the Georgian Bay region since 2010 and have developed extensive data sets that would be available to address the core questions posed if travel was restricted for any significant period. This, combined with the opportunities to apply novel statistical and mechanistic modelling approaches, and the flexible project aims (dependent on the interest of the applicant) means that the PhD is extremely resilient to the potential impacts of respiratory and contact infection.