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Developing a conservation strategy for rare Senecio cambrensis (Welsh ragwort), the only truly endemic plant of Wales

Project Description


The Welsh ragwort Senecio cambrensis is the only truly endemic plant of Wales. The species was first recorded in 1946 in north Wales and research showed that it was the product of a rare hybridization event (allopolyploidization) between common groundsel (Senecio vulgaris) and the alien invasive species Oxford ragwort (S. squalidus). Such cases of abrupt speciation within a known time scale are very rare worldwide (just 5 known examples), making them excellent model systems for studying speciation processes, especially at a genomic level. Indeed, over the past 18 years the Hiscock lab has provided major insights into genetic and genomic aspects of abrupt speciation in Senecio. Far less is known, however, about the ecology and population genetics of S. cambrensis; alarmingly, the most recent scientific study (Abbott et al 2009) which showed that wild populations are in rapid decline is now 10 years out of date, making a critical re-evaluation of its conservation status an imperative. In 2009 Abbott et al reported that populations of S. cambrensis increased steadily from 1950-1990, but since 1990 its numbers have decreased and it is now threatened with extinction unless measures are taken for its conservation. Reasons for this decline are not clear but may be due to habitat loss and climate change. In order to develop a meaningful conservation strategy for Welsh ragwort, critical data is needed to better understand its current distribution and population status in Wales, and its ecology, genetic diversity and reproductive biology. The aim of this project (in collaboration with the National Botanic Garden of Wales and the Institute of Biological, Ecological and Rural Sciences (IBERS, University of Aberystwyth) will be to gather these data and use them to make robust science-based recommendations for the conservation of S. cambrensis. To do this we will seek answers to the following questions (objectives):
1. How many populations of S. cambrensis remain in Wales and what are their estimated sizes?
2. How much genetic diversity is present in S. cambrensis today and how does this compare to past genetic diversity (as assessed through DNA analysis of herbarium specimens).
3. What is the predominant mode of reproduction in S. cambrensis – outcrossing or selfing?
4. What are the possible causes of S. cambrensis’ decline over the last 30 years and how can this decline be ameliorated?
The project is in collaboration with Dr Natasha de Vere (National Botanic Garden of Wales) and Dr Matthew Hegarty (Institute of Biological, Ecological and Rural Sciences [IBERS], University of Aberystwyth).


The student will have a broad interest in ecology, population genetics and conservation biology and wish to carry out research in both the field and the lab. An interest in plants and plant evolution and ecology would also be desirable.

Funding Notes

There are two main routes into the Department of Plant Sciences Graduate Programme dictated by different funding mechanisms: If, after discussion with a potential supervisor, you decide that one of these programmes is right for you, you will need to apply directly to the relevant programme.

Option 1: Applying via a Doctoral Training Programme
Option 2: Applying directly to the Plant Sciences DPhil research programme

In depth guidance is available here: View Website


Brennan, AC, Hiscock, SJ, Abbott, RJ. (2019) Completing the hybridization triangle: the inheritance of genetic incompatibilities during homoploid hybrid speciation in ragworts (Senecio). AOB Plants: 11: ply078

Vallejo-Marin M, Hiscock SJ (2016) Hybridization and hybrid speciation under global change. New Phytologist 211, 1170-1187

Hegarty, MJ, Abbott, RJ, Hiscock, SJ. (2012) Allopolyploid speciation in action: the origins and evolution of Senecio cambrensis. In Soltis, D & Soltis P. (Eds.) Polyploidy in Plants. Springer, New York.

Brennan AC, Hiscock SJ. (2010) Expression and inheritance of sporophytic self-incompatibility in synthetic allohexaploid Senecio cambrensis (Asteraceae). New Phytologist 186: SI, 251-261.

Abbott, RJ, Brennan, AC, James, JK, Forbes, DG, Hegarty, MJ, Hiscock, SJ. (2009) Recent hybrid origin and invasion of the British Isles by a self-incompatible species, Oxford ragwort (Senecio squalidus L., Asteraceae). Biological Invasions, 11: 1145 - 1158.

How good is research at University of Oxford in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 223.80

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