Ecosystems and Sustainability

Research in the Ecosystems and Sustainability area has access to state-of-the-art laboratory facilities in the ecosystems laboratories. There are three research themes:

  • biodiversity and conservation
  • biogeochemistry and ecosystem ecology
  • climate change and ecosystem services.

Key facts

  • Research in the School is funded by a diverse range of external funding bodies, including the NERC, the European Union, philanthropic charities (e.g. The Leverhulme Foundation; Esmee Fairbairn Foundation), Defra and the Royal Society.
  • The School hosts iSPOT aiding the identification of organisms worldwide.
  • Members of the discipline regularly publish in high-impact journals such as Science, Nature, PNAS and Proceedings of the Royal Society.


Most of our full-time research students are based at our Milton Keynes campus; for details of residence requirements for different modes of study see Full-time study and Part-time study.


The ecosystems labs are an integrated resource supporting the work of the Ecosystems and Sustainability area. Instrumentation has been built up over several years and are housed in the Ecosystems Laboratory building.

Facilities include a controlled environment laboratory for monitoring model ecosystems. A set of controlled environment cabinets (4 Snijders Microclima 1750) allow for programmable lighting, temperature to below 0ºC, humidity levels and CO2 control to sub-ambient levels as well as fumigation with pollutants such as ozone.

Growth trials are also undertaken in greenhouses, polytunnels, in controlled water regime mesocosms or under grow-lamps as appropriate. Additional equipment used in monitoring experiments includes fast-response laser-based methane analyser to ppb levels; CO2 analyser (IRGA) capable of field respiration measurements; GCs to measure a range of atmospheric constituents. There are several other laboratories that allow for the preparation of samples for analysis and to engage in soil physics work.

Field research is supported by state-of-the-art GPS (Leica R1200) and surveying kit (Leica T750), which allow field locations to be mapped and relocated with centimetre accuracy. The group sustains many long-term field survey programmes using this kit plus an array of logging sensors to monitor soil hydrology.

Career prospects

Some of our PhD students have secured academic positions at other universities or continued their research as post-doctoral fellows, whilst others have entered the field of environmental consultancy.



Find your research topic

Explore specific areas of research, current and prospective projects, entry requirements, fees and funding, available supervisors, how to apply and contact details for advice.

Biodiversity and conservation

Biogeochemistry and ecosystem ecology

Climate change and ecosystem services


Related topics

Consider linked topics from other research areas.

Energy and sustainability


The inclusive culture at The Open University has made it a welcoming place to pursue a PhD. The opportunity to immerse myself in my topic with expert support has opened up an exciting new world of possibilities. It’s been inspiring to explore ways to share my research with a range of audiences, taking it beyond the bounds of academia.

Vicky BowskillPhD Student, School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences