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Utilisation of single and multiple species cover crops for the suppression of soil borne nematodes of Narcissus PhD Studentship (36 months funding)

Crop & Environmental Sciences

Location:  Newport, Shropshire TF10 8NB
Salary:  As per advert
Post Type:  Full Time
Closing Date:  23.59 hours GMT on Friday 28 February 2020
Interview Date:  To be confirmed
Reference:  RD-PHD-44MB-R


The UK produces the largest volume of narcissus in the world with over 4000 hectares grown in England & Wales, ca. 390 ha in Scotland and ca. 150 ha in Jersey (Hanks, 2013). Approximately 50% of the produce is exported with 60% of the output being cut flowers. Main areas of production in GB are concentrated in the south west (Devon and Cornwall), the Isles of Scilly and Lincolnshire. These crops, however, are subject to feeding damage from stem and bulb nematodes (Ditylenchus dipsaci) and root lesion nematodes (Pratylenchus spp). Stem and bulb nematodes can cause decay in the bulbs, while root lesion nematodes inhibit root development and can form damaging disease complexes with soil borne fungi.  

Hot water treatment can reduce D. dipsaci in bulbs but there are limited options for treating nematodes in soil. Added to this, D. dipsaci can persist in soil for up to 10 years, whilst root lesion nematodes have multiple plant hosts. At a recent AHDB Narcissus Event, in the Scilly Isles, growers expressed serious concerns about plant parasitic nematodes and were keen to see research on alternative crop protection methods.

This project will investigate the impact of various types of cover crops for nematode suppression. In particular, the suppressiveness of brassica biofumigants and trap crops will be assessed by conducting field experiments in nematode infested land. We will also investigate methods for enhancing partial biofumigation (biofumigation achieved during the growing crop) for nematode suppression, such as treating biofumigants with methyl jasmonate to increase glucosinolate concentration in root leachates. During field experiments, the effect of biofumigant and trap crop species on non-target organisms will be assessed using molecular tools E.g. MiSeq. Finally, we will investigate mixtures of cover crop species for providing more universal suppression of plant parasitic nematodes.

Aim and Objectives

This AHDB Horticulture funded project aims to investigate alternative cover crop options for managing soil borne populations of D. dipsaci and Pratylenchus spp. The objectives are as follows: 

  1. Conduct field experiments at sites associated with D. dipsaci and Pratylenchus spp. damage to determine the suppressiveness of biofumigant and trap crops. 

  2. Conduct in-vitro experiments to evaluate the sensitivity of Pratylenchus spp to isothiocyanates (D. dipsaci has previously been screened at HAU). 

  3. Key to establishing an effective strategy for managing the target nematode species, is to ensure that beneficial non-target organisms are unaffected and soil function is not reduced. James Hutton Institute has a portfolio of methods to assess soil function and non-target community composition which will be applied to appropriate glasshouse and field trials.

  4. Evaluate methods for increasing the performance of partial biofumigation. A number of factors are known to influence root development and glucosinolate release in exudates.

  5. Based on the results from objectives 1 and 2, investigate how biofumigant and trap crop species could be blended to a) increase overall suppressivness and b) provide a solution for sites infested with D. dipsaci and Pratylenchus spp. 

Through this project the student will receive training in nematology, agronomy, field and laboratory-based experiments and statistical analyses as well as experience of the technical challenges of commercial crop production.

Applications should be made through the HAU website: where further details of the project can also be found.

Further information can be found on the HAU website at and on the research training provided and PhD progression requirements in the Postgraduate Research Students Handbook at:

For informal enquiries on general aspects of research degrees at HAU, applicants may contact Mrs Viv Slann, Research Students Administrator ( For informal enquiries on the project, applicants may contact the Director of Studies, Dr Matthew Back, through the staff directory:

The studentship includes tuition and bench fees and a tax-free stipend at the RCUK 2020-2021 rate.  This rate is not yet published but the rate for 2019-2020 is £15,009.

All applicants must normally have a minimum of an upper second class UK honours degree, or equivalent, in Biology, Zoology, Environmental Studies, Agriculture or related sciences.  Further research experience or a master’s degree is preferable.

A minimum level of competency in English is required. Where necessary, applicants need to be classed as an overall IELTS grade 6.0 with a minimum of 5.5 in each component.  Please see the following link with regard to English Language requirements:

The expected start date for the studentship is 28 September 2020.

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Harper Adams University is one of the premier UK Higher Education Institutions focused on the land-based and food supply chain sector.

With 2800 undergraduate students, plus those completing postgraduate, research and CPD programmes, Harper Adams is the UK's largest single provider of higher education for these subjects.  Programmes fall into eleven broad subject areas – but none operate in isolation. Community and collaboration are key at Harper Adams, meaning everyone, including staff, students and industry partners, benefits from a close network of knowledge and opportunity exchange

Situated in Shropshire, the campus and the surrounding area provide an excellent working and living environment for staff and students alike.

Harper Adams is consistently positioned highly in a range of national ratings, performance measures and league tables. Its current graduate employment rate is 98% (the joint top rating in England) and student satisfaction stands at 93% (National Student Survey 2017).

Harper Adams is ranked as the UK’s Best Modern University by the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018; was named University of the Year in the 2016 and 2017 Whatuni Student Choice Awards and holds a Gold (highest level) award from the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework.

In 2018 Harper Adams University will receive the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Further and Higher Education, part of the UK honours system.

Applied research is at the heart of the university’s activity, with the work of a thriving academic community underpinning both teaching and work with the industries allied to Harper. The 2014 Government Research Excellence Framework rated all of the university’s research as “of international quality”, and more than half was deemed “world leading” or “internationally excellent”. 



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