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Floral Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) signalling in response to air pollution and climate change


Project Description

Up to 88% of flowering plant species depend on insect pollinators. Although flowers and their visual cues are known to be important for pollinators, more recently it has been shown that VOCs are also important signals at distances of <200 m5, with strong flying pollinators such as bees foraging at ranges of <1500 m. Ozone pollution and climate change have been shown to affect VOC emission from plant leaves, but little is known on the effects on floral VOCs. Grassland flowers emit a mixture of VOCs and the composition and magnitude is altered when plants are exposed to warming or drought. Atmospheric reactions might also degrade the emitted VOCs, potentially disrupting pollinator cues further.

You will perform experiments on flowering plants in the ozone exposure facilities (http://www.ceh.ac.uk/our-science/research-facility/solardomes-and-ozone-field-release-system) at CEH Bangor. You will quantify the change in signal strength and composition of floral VOC emissions in response to ozone pollution and climate change (warming and drought). The resulting information will be used to develop numerical models in the third year to determine scent emission rates as a function of environmental variables (e.g. temperature), phenological stage of the flowers, and O3 levels. You will then combine existing data of air pollutant concentrations, modelled signal loss and grassland distribution in the UK to identify the locations of largest risk to pollinating and foraging insects.
You will be based at CEH Bangor, but also benefit from the expertise in VOC analysis at Lancaster University. You will benefit from postgraduate training schemes available at both CEH and Lancaster University, including training in health and safety, statistical analysis, quality assurance, presentation and writing skills. You will become part of a vibrant and prolific research community supervised by experts in plant physiology and biosphere – atmosphere interactions.

Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in a relevant subject such as Environmental Science or Natural Sciences.

For further details please contact Dr Felicity Hayes or Dr Kirsti Ashworth .

Funding Notes

The studentship is only available to applicants from the UK and EU.

Each student will be supported by the tax-free stipend (£15,009 in 2019/20), typically for 3.5 years. In addition, for eligible students, the award will cover EU/UK fees.

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