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Floral utopia for urban pollinators - NERC GW4+ DTP

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, January 07, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Pollinators are declining worldwide, and a lack of floral resources is high on the list of likely causes. While there are many pollinator-friendly planting mixes for use in urban and rural areas, most are based on expert knowledge rather than a rigorous evidence base. Recent work at the University of Bristol has measured the amount of nectar in all common British wild flowers and crops and we have similar data for garden plants. These data provide a real opportunity to design evidence-based planting schemes. This project will combine plant and pollination ecology with economics theory to predict the best plant mixes for pollinators. Working collaboratively with landscape architects throughout the project, we will develop urban flower mixes which maximize pollinator floral resources from February to November. While the focus is on urban plantings, the models will be suitable for optimizing the floral resources provided by any floral mix for pollinators, for example, field margins in arable farmland or in orchards.

The aim of this project is to develop habitats for pollinators which are designed to maximize nectar production in urban habitats, and then, working with commercial landscape architects, to test them under field conditions.

Starting with a pool of garden plant species which are horticulturally compatible (i.e. they will grow in naturalistic long-lived plantings with the minimum of management) we will characterise their nectar production and phenology, along with the number of flowers produced per plant. Then using models from economics designed for optimising a stocks and shares portfolio, we will apply these to commercially used planting densities to predict the optimal community of plants to maximise nectar production over the pollinator field season (March-October).

We have already trialled the models needed for this and have used them to predict the best native plant mixes for commercial apple orchards in order to support pollinators before and after the apple blossom, tailoring these for the whole orchard pollinator community or producing bespoke mixes for target pollinator groups (e.g. solitary bees or bumblebees). Field trials will be used to test our urban mix predictions with replicate plots planted in Bristol and Cardiff, using recently developed software (nullnetr) to test pollinator preferences under field conditions.

Funding Notes

This is a competition funded project through the NERC GW4+ DTP. There is a competitive selection process. This studentship will cover fees, stipend and research costs for UK students and UK residents. For more information on eligibility please see: View Website

The candidate will ideally have evidence of fieldwork skills, a knowledge of plant identification and pollinator biology, along with excellent people skills as they will be working with a wide range of people (from academics to landscape architects to the general public).


Baude, M., Kunin, W.E., Boatman, N.D., Conyers, S., Davies, N., Gillespie, M.A.K., Morton, R.D., Smart, S.M. & Memmott, J. (2016) Historical nectar assessment reveals the fall and rise of floral resources in Britain. Nature, 530, 85-88.

Baldock, K.C.R., Goddard, M.A., Hicks, D.M., Kunin, W.E., Mitschunas, N., Osgathorpe, L.M., Potts, S.G., Robertson, K.M., Scott, A.V., Stone, G.N., Vaughan, I.P. & Memmott, J. (2015) Where is the UK's pollinator biodiversity? The importance of urban areas for flower-visiting insects. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences, DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.2849

Baldock K.C.R, Goddard, M.A., Hicks, D.M., Kunin, W.E., Mitschunas, N., Osgathorpe, L.M., Potts, S.G., Scott, A.V., Staniczenko, P.P.A., Stone, G.N, Vaugham, I.P. & Memmott J. (accepted) A systems approach reveals urban pollinator hotspots and conservation opportunities, Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Hall DM et al. (2017) The city as a refuge for insect pollinators. Conservation Biology 31:24-29. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12840.

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 64.60

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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