Dr Pia Benaud
Postdoctoral Research Associate
Amory Building, University of Exeter, Rennes Drive, Exeter, EX4 4RJ , UK
I am interested in how alterations to hydrological connectivity and vegetation communities can mitigate land degradation issues, with a primary focus on understanding how restoring natural habitat function can reduce soil erosion and associated processes. I take an interdisciplinary approach to monitoring structural and functional change, combining fieldwork and laboratory analysis with proximal and remote sensing technologies, and geospatial analysis, delivering both a spatial and temporal understanding of environmental change.
I am currently conducting research in support of the SWW funded ‘Mires Restoration Project’ in a maternity cover role for Dr Naomi Gatis. I will be combining field measurements of vegetation diversity and carbon fluxes with remote and proximally sensing data, to build an understanding of a degraded and actively eroding peatland. Immediately prior to this I spent the summer of 2018 establishing monitoring sites for a Sphagnum reintroduction trial on Exmoor. For more information on this and my previous research, please see my 'Research' tab.
Broad research specialisms:
Soil Erosion; Structure-from-Motion Photogrammetry; Environmental change detection; Understanding the environmental effects of landscape restoration.
PhD Physical Geography (University of Exeter)
BSc (Hons) Environmental Science (Griffith University, Australia)
BSc Environmental Science with year abroad (Griffith University, University of East Anglia)
Current research projects
Mires Project (2015-2020)
The peatlands of Exmoor and Dartmoor are heavily degraded as a result of erosion and drainage for agricultural improvement. This research provides an evidence base for the effectiveness of moorland restoration, for the Exmoor and Dartmoor Mires restoration projects. Through monitoring vegetation, carbon fluxes and patterns of erosion I contribute to the scientific understanding of habitat function and restoration responses.
Sphagnum Reintroduction Project
Despite hydrological success, the physical restoration works carried out on Exmoor have resulted in limited vegetation change, to-date. This project is investigating the viability of sphagnum reintroduction as program to the existing restoration work. I supported the design, establishment and monitoring of the study prior to the commencement of a PhD researcher, and provide ongoing informal PhD supervision
Previous research projects
Piloting a cost-effective framework for monitoring soil erosion in England and Wales
Attempts to quantify soil erosion nationally have illustrated that soil erosion can occur in the UK, however, understanding whether or not the UK has a soil erosion problem still remains a question to be answered. This Defra-funded project established a framework to monitor soil erosion at a national scale, and compared the cost-effectiveness of different monitoring approaches. My contributions included the review and construction of interactive geodatabase and web-map of existing UK-based soil erosion work. I also critically explored the application of novel proximal sensing technologies and tracers for the quantification of soil loss.
Impacts of Moorland Restoration on Nutscale Reservoir
Nutscale Reservoir has suffered negative changes in water quality, increasing the cost to both the supplier (Wessex Water) and consumer. This project sought to understand if there was a link between moorland restoration and the water quality issues.
Australian Alternative Covers Assessment Program (AACAP)
Landfill phytocovers are thought to be a sustainable alternative to conventional barrier-based covers, utilising soil water storage, surface evaporation and plant transpiration to reduce water ingress to decommissioned landfill areas. I studied vegetation performance and soil properties within full-scale test phytocovers, describing responses in four different bioclimatic conditions.