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School of Geography

Sarah Fell Sarah Fell

Contact details

School of Geography
University of Leeds
University Road
Leeds LS2 9JT   UK



Project title:

Alpine river ecosystem response to glacial retreat

Project overview

Climatic warming is of greatest magnitude in areas of high altitude and latitude, causing alpine glaciers to thin and retreat at accelerating rates. This is altering the proportional contribution of glacial ice melt, snowpack melt and groundwater to alpine streams. As each water source has a discrete physiochemical signature and discharge regime, spatial and temporal variability within these contributions will alter stream reach habitats and in turn, influence the structure and function of benthic ecosystems. A more comprehensive understanding of these ecological responses is required to better inform effective conservation management strategies in a changing climate.


This research will take a space for time approach, using catchments under varying degrees of glacial cover to simulate the chronological stages of glacial retreat and their associated water source contributions at regional and biogeographical scales. It will focus upon alterations to the structure (food webs) and function (decomposition, secondary production) of benthic ecosystems across this gradient of glacial influence.


To determine how the structure and function of alpine stream ecosystems will respond to the alterations in water sourcing induced by glacial retreat.


  1. To investigate how the food webs of benthic stream ecosystems vary along a gradient of glacial influence in the Austria Alps.
  2. To determine how cellulose decomposition rates vary along a gradient of glacial influence, across multiple biogeographical regions.
  3. To validate and apply current water sourcing and macroinvertebrate sampling strategies to inform alpine freshwater conservation management in the Hohe Tauern National Park, Austria.


NERC DTP Studentship

Conferences/training courses attended:


  • Starting your research degree
  • Learning to teach demonstrator course
  • A PGR publications masterclass for new PhD students


  • British Diatom Meeting 2017



Short Curriculum Vitae

2013-2015: Land Management and Conservation Adviser, Natural England

2012-2013: MSc Ecology and Conservation, Lancaster University

2007-2011: BSc (Hons.) Geography, University of Edinburgh


Fell, S. C., Carrivick, J. L. and Brown, L. E. (2017). The Multitrophic Effects of Climate Change and Glacier Retreat in Mountain Rivers. BioScience. 67(10): 897-911.

Brown, L. E., Khamis, K., Wilkes, M., Balen, P., Brittain, J. E., Carrivick, J. L., Fell, S. C., Friberg, N., Fureder, L., Gislason, G. M., Hainie, S., Hannah, D. M., James, W., Lencioni, W., Olafsson, J. S., Robinson, C. T., Saltveit, S. J., Thompson and C., Milner, A. M. (2017). Macroinvertebrate Traits and Functional Diversity in Glacier-Fed Rivers. Nature Ecology & Evolution. 2: 325-333.