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January 16, 2017

Understanding the links between soils, plants and pollination

Understanding the links between soils, plants and pollination 400 x 400 px

The effects of soil nutrition on plant growth and yield are well known and plant resource and life-history theories can predict patterns of plant community assembly in terms of functional traits expressed along a fertility gradient. However, these theories do not explicitly account for trade-offs in resource partitioning within a species when grown under contrasting conditions or the indirect effects of other below-ground processes and potential impacts on processes such as pollination.

Insect visitation to flowers is determined by a suite of floral traits and pollination of wild plants and agricultural crops may be indirectly affected by levels of soil enrichment altering floral traits, including pollen and nectar characteristics and flower abundance and morphology. Evidence exists for interactions between several above- and below-ground processes, but relationships between soil nutrition, plant reproduction traits and pollination remain little studied.

By testing the null hypotheses that soil nutrient enrichment has no effect on intra-specific floral traits or insect visitation and, insect pollination service provision is unaffected by soil nutrients, this project aims to elucidate links between soil nutrient enrichment, allocation of resources to floral traits, insect pollinator visitation and pollination. Addressing this current knowledge gap will be important for further understanding pressures on wildflower populations in the context of declining pollinator populations and atmospheric N deposition and for maintaining and enhancing yields of insect pollinated crops within an optimised soil fertilizer regime.

A number of experimental approaches will be used, including field ecology experiments at Rothamsted’s Park Grass Experiment and controlled laboratory experiments at both Rothamsted and University of Lancaster. The project offers excellent opportunities for world class PhD research, benefitting from interdisciplinary expertise in plant and pollination ecology and soil biogeochemistry, together with support from biostatisticians. The student will receive training in a range of techniques, including experimental design for plant, behavioural and soil sciences; statistics; QA; and, publishing and presentation skills.

Eligibility: Applications should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in subjects such as Natural Sciences, Biology, Ecology. For further details, please contact Dr Alison Haughton alison.haughton@rothamsted.ac.uk