Overview

Project Highlights:

  • Investigate three carnivous plant species native to Britain
  • Contribute to their conservation through a fuller understanding of habitat requirements
  • Tackle the fundamental ecological question of how multiple species can co-exist

 

How do different plant species coexist? Hydrological Niche Segregation (HNS)—the partitioning of species due to spatial or temporal variability in hydrology, or differences in water-use strategies—provides one potential answer. HNS facilitates species coexistence across a range of ecosystems, from arid to wetland, but important questions remain. As a result understanding of the mechanisms that control the diversity of ecosystems is still poor. This project will investigate hydrological niche segregation (HNS) of carnivorous Sundews (Drosera sp.) growing on ombrotrophic (rain-fed) bogs.

Britain’s three native carnivorous sundews species—Drosera rotundifolia, D. intermedia and D. anglica—are closely related and share very similar life-hitory traits. They are small, short-lived rosette-forming perennials, which posess sticky leaves that catch insect prey. They appear to occupy distinct hydrological niches on ombrotrophic bogs, but usually grow in very close proximity. Ombrotrophic bogs have a clear hummock-hollow microtopography, which causes highly variable hydrological conditions over short distances. Drosera rotundifolia occupies mainly hummocks (never waterlogged); D. anglica occupies pools (permanently waterlogged); while D. intermedia occupies intermediate areas. This small-scale heterogeneity, apparent niche segregation and coexistence of similar, related species makes this an interesting study system for understanding HNS.

This PhD will study Drosera species in-situ on bogs in the UK and in ex-situ experimental studies, to determine how HNS prevents a single Drosera species dominating. In-situ work will take place at one or more bogs in Britain, e.g. Cors Fochno in Wales (with possibility of studying bogs further afield, e.g. in Sweden). We are looking for an excellent ecology, environmental science or geography graduate to produce high quality science. They will address questions relevant to carnivorous plant research, bog ecology and biodiversity science.

The aim of the project is to answer the following questions:

  1. How does the moisture gradient affect the distribution of these three species and how do other factors (e.g. nutrient availability, interactions with other plant species) modify these distributions?
  2. What are the characteristics of the hydrological niche of each secies and is this altered by plant-plant interactions?
  3. How does location on the hydrological gradient influence the plants and are these location effects altered by plant-plant interactions?
  4. What are the trade-offs that enable each species to occupy their respective hydrological niche?
Drosera intermedia

Methodology

The student will:

  1. Quantify the biotic and abiotic environment (particularly the hydrological environent, but also nutient availability, plant-plant interactions, prey availabilty) of individual Drosera plants of all three species at a single UK bog (Cors Fochno, Wales), to model the hydrological niche of each species.
  2. Carry out reciprocal transplant, and competition removal experiments. These will determine how the location on the bog affects plant performance. Physiolgical meaurements (e.g. leaf colour, leaf size, photosynthetic rates and leaf stickiness) will be used to qunatify plant responses.
  3. Determine the specific hydrological tolerances of the three Drosera species in ex-situ studies (e.g. in plant growth chambers).

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 ecophysiological measurements, field techniquesand statistical analysis.  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 numeracy.

Timeline

Year 1: Mapping and measurent of Drosera, and environmental variables on Cors Fochno. Set up field study, undertake reciprocal transplants and competition removal. Develop hydrological model. Collect seed and germinate for ex-situ study. Presentation of Drosera distribution data at international conference.

Year 2: monitoring of field experiment – e.g. mesaurement of prey capture, photosynthetic rates, nutrient availability. Establishment of ex-situ study. Submit Drosera distribution paper. Presentation of reciprocal transplant study at international conference.

Year 3: Harvest ex-situ study. Submit reciprical transplant study paper. Present results of ex-situ study at international conference. Submit ex-situ study paper.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

Dr Jonathan Millett has been working with Drosera species on ombrotrophic bogs for 15 years. He has extensive experience of fieldwork in a variety of environments, but spends most of his time working on bogs. Prof David Gowing has spent 20 years characterising the water regime of meadow soils and relating the hydrological information to vegetation-community dynamics. He has shown that it is possible to define a plant’s hydrological niche and that the unique niche of each species allows many species to exist in close proximity. The student will also work with external non-academic organisations to develop the significance of this study for the management of ombrotrophic bogs, for example how hydrological restoration might be better planned to enhance biodiversity.

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/.