Overview

Climate change will affect many species and biological processes, including those that underpin key ecosystem services such as pollination. An important knowledge gap, however, remains our limited understanding of how climate warming will alter the seasonal life cycle (phenology) of key pollinator species, potentially decoupling their interaction with plants.  Work in our lab has identified that disruption of insect winter dormancy (diapause), is likely to play a key role1, leading to high winter mortality2 and/or loss of synchrony in insect spring emergence with the timing of flowering. This could have dramatic impacts on pollinator diversity, abundance and fitness (as well as the plants they pollinate – including many crops).  Woodlands provide a critical winter refuge for numerous pollinator species in the UK, as well as access to important floral resources and nest sites3. This project will take advantage of the state-of-the-art Birmingham Institute of Forestry Research (BiFoR) facility: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/bifor/index.aspx as its primary field site. 

The lab-based component of this project will employ controlled environment rooms and incubators to investigate how different climate scenarios influence the diapause response in key ‘model’ pollinator speciesThe consequences of disrupted diapause on winter mortality, diapause duration/timing of spring emergence and post diapause fitness will then be assessed4.  The capacity for extending diapause and the long term cold storage of pollinators to help supplement declining natural populations will also be investigated.  The field-based component will then document how different species phenology patterns map onto climate and microclimate data recorded at the BIFoR site.  This taps into an ongoing 10 year experiment investigating climate change responses in the entire woodland system, including access to data on factors driving flowering phenology in order to better understand pollinator-plant interactions. Combined, these outputs will allow us to develop predictive models of climate change impacts on pollinator phenology, and test these models with field observations and climate data5.  Through interaction with an extensive network of collaborators in industry, policy, and conservation we will then seek to develop mitigation strategies to tackle pollinator decline.  

Bumblebee, Bombus pascuorum, on bluebell

Methodology

The Hayward lab has multiple ongoing projects investigating insect diapause and responses to climate change, and provides access to state of the art environmental control facilities.  Both the Hayward and Sadler labs are highly experienced in field sampling of insects/monitoring phenology, and multiple sampling methods (pan traps, malaise traps, canopy sampling etc.) are already in place at the BIFoR site.  Extensive climate monitoring equipment is also in place at BIFoR, and the DR will receive training in how to use all this equipment. In additon, there is also an opportunity to employ molecular techniques to further investigate the processes underpinning diapause regulation within the Environmental Genomics Facility at UoB. Subsequent data analysis will determine spatial and temporal associations with climate variables and across woodland types.

Training and Skills

CENTA students will attend 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 the student's projects and themes. 

The DR will receive specialist training in the use of state-of-the art facilities at the vanguard of environmental research within the Biosystems and Environmental Change (BEC) theme in the School of Biosciences.   They will also have access to the full range of facilities within BIFoR, including the unique woodland FACE project.  Well established partnerships with industry, e.g. Biobest, conservation groups, e.g. Woodland Trust, and government agencies, e.g. Defra, means the DR will experience first-hand the practicalities of translating field and lab-based research into functional outputs within a setting of environmental policy and management.

Timeline

Year 1: Initiate field experiments at BIFoR sites. Start lab-based investigations of diapause in key species. 

First UK Conference end of Yr 1

Preparation of manuscripts for publication.

Year 2: Second season of field work continuing phenology time series.  Lab-based environmental manipulation of diapause guided by field data – assess stress physiology/winter survival under different climate scenarios.

Ongoing submission of manuscripts.

Year 3: Continued fieldwork.  Spatial and temporal analysis of pollinator distributions integrated with climate data.  Combine outputs from phyioslogy and field experiments to determine risks of tipping points for winter survival or asynchronous phenology.

International conference and ongoing submission of manuscripts.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

This project builds on an existing collaboration between SH (Biosciences) and JS (GEES) within BIFoR, integrating expertise in insect physiological responses to climate variability with landscape ecology.  The proposed work directly addresses a fundamental aim of BIFoR: to enhance our understanding of how environmental change will impact on woodland systems. The DR will have every opportunity to engage with the extensive rolling programme of stakeholder engagement activities in both the Hayward lab and BIFoR.

Further Details

  • Any further questions about the project, please contact:

    Dr Scott Hayward

    School of Biosciences

    University of Birmingham

    e-mail: s.a.hayward@bham.ac.uk