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Tackling Japanese knotweed: how it grows and how to stop it

Dr Karen Bacon (SoG), Dr Alison Dunn, Dr Fiona Gill, Dr Mark Fennell (AECOM), Prof. Max Wade (AECOM)

Project partner(s): AECOM (CASE)

Contact email:


Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is one of the most invasive plants in the UK and costs hundreds of millions of pounds annually in terms of its control. It is known to have negative impacts on biodiversity and flood prevention (Aguilera et al., 2010) and is extremely difficult to eradicate or even control (Jones et al., 2018). It is thought to spread rapidly by vegetative growth and be easily spread to new areas as a result of accidental movement of plant fragments by human activities (construction, agriculture and even weed control, GBNNSS). The species also has significant socio-economic impacts including restriction of mortgage options due to scientifically unsupported fears of structural damage (e.g. Fennell et al., 2018). Despite these problems, not much is known about how Japanese knotweed grows, spreads and regenerates or about the best biosecurity protocols to reduce the risk of accidental spread. The aim of this project is to assess how easily Japanese knotweed can spread (e.g. through assessment of how much above or below-ground biomass is required for regeneration and how long it can remain dormant after herbicide or other treatment); to explore how increasing temperatures may impact on its spread and interaction with our ecosystems in the near-term future; and to develop and test biosecurity protocols to slow the spread of knotweed to new areas. 

In this project, you will work with scientists at the University of Leeds and in the infrastructure services firm AECOM to determine how much of a risk different amounts of Japanese knotweed biomass present for spread and regenerate and to explore biosecurity protocols to reduce the risk of spread. The project will include a minimum three-month placement with AECOM and provide the successful applicant with experience of working in environmental consultancy.

In particular, according to your particular research interests, the studentship could involve:

1. Determining the amount of above- and below-ground biomass required for successful regeneration of the species and how long such material can remain dormant after herbicide or other control treatment;

2. Determining the effects of changing temperature on Japanese knotweed regeneration and invasion through a mixture of controlled environment experiments and modelling;

3. Determining the extent of Japanese knotweed rhizomes in differently sized stands through surveying and ground-penetrating radar in the field;

4. Investigating the rate of spread and growth of rhizomes though soil in both lab experiments and field trials;

5. Investigating the rate of spread of above-ground material through use of satellite imagery; 

6. Investigating plant chemistry, physiology and functional traits of Japanese knotweed;

7. Evaluating the effectiveness of different biosecurity protocols (thermal treatments; chemical treatments, appropriate to a range of equipment and field situations) to reduce the risk of anthropogenic spread.

Related undergraduate subjects:

  • Agriculture
  • Biodiversity
  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Biology
  • Botany
  • Conservation
  • Conservation biology
  • Earth science
  • Ecology
  • Environmental biology
  • Environmental conservation
  • Environmental management
  • Environmental science
  • Geography
  • Natural sciences
  • Physical geography
  • Plant science
  • Soil science
  • Sustainability and environmental management