Sheep versus sea-lions? Quantifying human impacts on the carbon and greenhouse gas balance of peatlands in the Falkland Islands

Sheep and penguins on the shoreline

Sheep and penguins share the shoreline, image by Chris Evans

This project offers the opportunity to study and work in the unique, extensive and poorly understood peatlands of the Falkland Islands.


  • The project will offer the opportunity to study and work in the unique, extensive and poorly understood peatlands of the Falkland Islands
  • It will combine an extensive programme of field measurements using state of the art analysers with in-depth analysis of peat geochemical and DNA sequencing of peat microbial communities. 
  • The project aims to produce the first ever empirically-based estimate of the GHG balance of Falkland peatlands, and how this has been affected by land-use, supporting UK and Falkland Island Government policy on land-management and the future development of carbon offsetting and climate change mitigation schemes.


The Falkland Islands are the largest of the UK’s Overseas Territories, and hold some of the most carbon-rich soils on Earth. Peatlands cover almost half of the land area, and account for ~10% of the total peat area under UK jurisdiction.

These peatlands developed over millenia in the absence of humans or herbivorous mammals. Since human settlement began 250 years ago, large-scale grazing and other land-use pressures have caused profound ecological changes.

Around 80% of the Islands’ distinctive ‘tussac’, a tall peat-forming grass which provides habitat and shelter for wildlife including penguins and sea-lions, has been lost to grazing, and peat erosion is widespread. However, we do not know whether Falkland peatlands continue to sequester carbon (thus contributing to climate change mitigation) or whether human activities have converted these vast carbon stores into greenhouse gas (GHG) emission sources. 

The PhD project will offer a unique opportunity to advance scientific understanding of this exceptional, ecologically rich but poorly understood ecosystem. It will break new ground by making the first comprehensive measurements of GHG (CO2 and CH4) fluxes from natural and degraded Falkland peatlands.

Cutting-edge geochemical and microbiological sequencing analyses, and habitat characterisation and upscaling using Earth Observation data, will provide new mechanistic, landscape-scale understanding of the drivers of these fluxes. The results will enhance fundamental understanding of this important ecosystem and help to understand the wider vulnerability of global peatlands to land-use and climate change.

The project will be of policy and public interest by quantifying the GHG emissions of the Falkland Islands, support the UK and Falkland governments in meeting their climate change targets, and have direct practical application in the development of a Falkland carbon offsetting scheme. 

Supervision and training

This project is cross institutional between UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, University of Leicester, South Atlantic Environment Research Institute and the Natural History Museum.

The student will have full access to CEH, UoL anf Natural History Museum training programmes. The student will acquire specialist skills in GHG flux measurements, soil microbiology, next generation sequencing techniques, field work skills, organic geochemistry and EO data analysis. They will also have opportunities to receive science communication training.

How to apply

Read how to apply to this studentship on the CENTA website

The deadline for applications is 13 January 2021.


Evans, C.D., Ritson, J., McAdam, J., Carter, S., Stanworth, A., Ross, K., 2020. A scoping study for a potential community-based carbon offsetting scheme in the Falkland Islands. Report to Falklands Conservation, Stanley. 

Evans, C., Artz, R., Moxley, J., Smyth, M-A., Taylor, E., Archer, N., Burden, A., Williamson, J., Donnelly, D., Thomson, A., Buys, G., Malcolm, H., Wilson, D., Renou-Wilson, F. (2017). Implementation of an emission inventory for UK peatlands. Report to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Bangor, 88pp. Available at: 

Lin, X., Green, S., Tfaily, M.M., Prakash, O., Konstantinidis, K.T., Corbett, J.E., Chanton, J.P., Cooper, W.T. and Kostka, J.E., 2012. Microbial community structure and activity linked to contrasting biogeochemical gradients in bog and fen environments of the Glacial Lake Agassiz Peatland. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 78, 7023-7031.

Payne, R.J., Ring-Hrubesh, F., Rush, G., Sloan, T.J., Evans, C.D. and Mauquoy, D., 2019. Peatland initiation and carbon accumulation in the Falkland Islands. Quaternary Science Reviews, 212, 213-218.

Schellekens, J., Buurman, P. and Pontevedra-Pombal, X., 2009. Selecting parameters for the environmental interpretation of peat molecular chemistry–a pyrolysis-GC/MS study. Organic Geochemistry, 40, 678-691

Ritson, J., Evans, C.D., Restoring unique Falkland Island peatlands could mean the islands store more carbon than they produce. Green Alliance Inside Track blog


Apply for this project

Read how to apply for this course on the CENTA website

Application deadline: 13 January 2021

Any questions?

UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology Bangor 

Main supervisor: Prof Chris Evans


University of Leicester

Prof Sue Page

Dr Arnoud Boom

UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Dr Ross Morrison 

South Atlantic Environmental Research Insitute

Dr Stefanie Carter

The Natural History Museum

Dr Anne Jungblut

CENTA Doctoral Training Partnership

Joint PhD training partnerships involving the Universities of Birmingham, Leicester,  Warwick, Loughborough, Cranfield and The Open University and four NERC research organisations.

Funded by