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Overview

Project Highlights:

  • Studying non-native carnivorous pitcher plants across Europe.
  • Creating knowledge with real conservation applications – for bog ecosystems and understanding non-native species.
  • Working with a range of academics and organisations.

The introduction of non-native invasive ‘alien’ species (IAS) is one of the most important anthropogenic impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity. Understanding the effects of IAS on native species, populations, communities and habitats may also provide greater insights into ecological and evolutionary processes, such as community assembly. Questions about the ecology of many IAS, however, remain unanswered. For example, impacts on populations can be obvious, but impacts on communities and ecosystems can remain largely undetected.

The carnivorous pitcher plant Sarracenia purpurea is native to N. America. They capture insect prey in fluid-filled pitchers, which in their native range contain a simple detritus-based food web. Sarracenia have established at a number of sites across Europe (26 in the British Isles); on some they are invasive. They are an interesting IAS study system because of the interactions between prey, inquiline communities and plant nutrition. Investigation of Sarracenia in Europe will provide new and novel insights into how species function outside of their native range.

To-date there has been very little study of European Sarracenia populations, despite extensive investigation in America. The aims of this PhD are to determine the current and likely future extent of Sarracenia in Europe, and provide evidence to support management of existing populations. The objectives are to determine controls over geographic variability in Sarracenia populations in Europe in comparison to its native range in N. America, and how function and distribution might change in the future. The PhD will also investigate the impact of non-native Sarracenia on existing communities and the effectiveness and impact of Sarracenia control measures.

Understanding the nature of the scope and impact of IAS needs a multidisciplinary approach requiring understanding of the physiological, population and community ecology of the species and of species distribution modelling. We are looking for a motivated Biology, Ecology, Environmental Science or Geography graduate to take on this challenging project.

Sarracenia purpurea growing at Lower Hyde Bog in Dorset.

Methodology

A Europe-wide field campaign will collect measurements of Sarracenia morphology, inquiline community composition, and nutrition. Relationships between these and measures of the abiotic/biotic environment (habitat characteristics, plant community composition and site characteristics) will be used to augment existing presence/absence data. Modelling of the potential range of Sarracenia plants, habitat and inquiline communities in Europe will be used to forecast change under climate change scenarios.

Correlative and experimental studies of Sarracenia at a small number of contrasting UK (e.g. Froggart), Irish (e.g. Woodfield Bog bogs and American (e.g. Harvard Forest) sites will determine the impact of Sarracenia on local insect populations, the impact on prey capture and on the nutrition of co-occurring carnivorous plant species (particularly Drosera rotundifolia). Monitoring of sites where Sarracenia control has been implemented will establish the success of the control and potential for regeneration of Sarracenia from the soil seed bank.

Training and Skills

CENTA students are required to complete 45 days training throughout their PhD including a 10-day placement. In the first year, students will be trained as a single cohort on environmental science, research methods and core skills. Throughout the PhD, training will progress from core skills sets to master classes specific to CENTA research themes. 

Training will include plant ecophysiolgical measurements, field techniques, statistical analyses and species distribution modelling. The project will develop some key skills identified by NERC as ‘most wanted’ for jobs in the environment sector such as, fieldwork, sampling techniques, field observation and modelling.

Timeline

Year 1 The student will set up monitoring of sites where Sarracenia removal is planned, in a BACI design. They will also set up experimental studies at 3 sites in the British Isles and 3 sites in N. America. These will determine the impact of Sarracenia on the local ecosystem and will run for 2 seasons. The student will spend 2 months at BSBI and 4 weeks at Harvard Forest.

Year 2 The student will visit sites across the UK, Ireland and the rest of Europe where Sarracenia is naturalised. They will collect data on plant morphology, inquiline communities host plant communities and environmental data. Student will spend 2 months at BSBI and 2 weeks at Harvard Forest.

Year 3 This year will involve a shorter field campaign to fill any gaps identified after Yr 2. They will then use the data from the field campaigns to model the biotic and abiotic controls over the ecology of naturalised Sarracenia. These data will be integrated with that from N. American populations to determine changes in response to climate change. Student will spend 1 month at BSBI and 2 weeks at CEH Lancaster.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

This is a CASE project. The CASE partner is the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI). The student will spend a total of 6 months on work placement with BSBI. Also involved in the project will be Prof. Aaron Ellison (Harvard University) and Dr Simon Smart (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, CEH), who bring expertise in Sarracenia ecology and climate change impacts on plant distributions. The student will spend time at both of these organisations during the PhD.

Further Details

For information about this project, please contact Dr Jonathan Millett (j.millett@lboro.ac.uk). For enquiries about the application process, please contact Susan Clarke, Department of Geography, Loughborough University (S.N.Clarke@lboro.ac.uk).

Please quote CENTA when completing the application form: http://www.lboro.ac.uk/study/apply/research/.