Microplastics and warming waters

An ecotoxicological assessment of multiple stressors in UK rivers systems


An exciting opportunity to apply for a fully funded PhD position in the College of Health, Science and Society.

Ref: 2324-OCT-HSS10

The expected start date of these studentships is 1 October 2023.

The closing date for applications is 3 July 2022.

Studentship details

UK rivers are amongst the most polluted in Europe, with only 14% of English rivers achieving good ecological status and no single river achieving good chemical status.

Key sources of pollution have been identified as sewage discharges, agricultural runoff and chemical discharge, all of which include microplastic particles. In addition, it’s well established that climate change is modifying river water temperature. However, even though temperature is known to influence metabolic processes, dissolved oxygen and nitrate concentrations, most research has focused largely on nutrient loading and chemical contaminants with less attention given to the impacts of temperatures or multi-stressor responses.

Microplastics have been identified as a contaminant of global concern and been shown to be ubiquitous in river systems, with work largely focused on characterising and quantifying their spatial distribution. Only recently has attention turned to the potential ecological impacts of microplastics, however, most of this work focuses on single stressor responses and does not address the reality of combined stressors.

This project aims to use controlled exposure experiments to directly address this knowledge gap by looking at combined impacts of both microplastic loading and increased water temperature on three trophic levels of river systems: plants (including food crops), invertebrates and microbial populations.

Experiments will be conducted in UWE Bristol’s state of the art Envirotron facility where lab scale mesocosm exposures will assess ecotoxicological impact on aquatic plants, invertebrates and microbial communities. Experimental results will be incorporated into multi-stressor ecotoxicological models, to determine dose-responses (e.g. Benchmark Doses, BMDs, Adverse Outcome Pathways, AOPs) and the risks posed to freshwater habitats and their communities will be quantified.

For an informal discussion about the studentship, please email Stephanie Sargeant at stephanie.sargeant@uwe.ac.uk or Freya Radford at freya.radford@uwe.ac.uk.


The studentship is available from 1 October 2023 for a period of three and half years, subject to satisfactory progress and includes a tax exempt stipend, which will be £18,622 per annum (2023/24).

In addition, full-time tuition fees will be covered for up to three years.


Applicants must have a good honours degree (2:1 or equivalent, or above) in a relevant subject area (environmental sciences, aquatic ecology, or biology).

A Master’s degree (or equivalent) and/or relevant laboratory experience is desirable but not essential. The studentship is open to the UK and International students.

A recognised English language qualification is required.

How to apply

Please submit your application online. When prompted use the reference number 2324-OCT-HSS10.

Supporting documentation: You will need to upload your cover letter, all your degree certificates and transcripts and your proof of English language proficiency as attachments to your application, so please have these available when you complete the application form.

References: You will need to provide details of two referees as part of your application. At least one referee must be an academic referee from the institution that conferred your highest degree. Your referee will be asked for a reference at the time you submit your application, so please ensure that your nominated referees are willing and able to provide references within 14 days of your application being submitted.

Closing date

The closing date for applications is 3 July 2023.

Further information

It is expected that interviews will take place on week commencing 17 July 2023. If you have not heard from us by August 2023, we thank you for your application but on this occasion, you have not been successful.

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