Pollination is an essential part of the production of our food supply. Ensuring an adequate supply of pollinators is essential to maintain global food security but pollinator populations have declined in many parts of the world, and it is likely that climate change will further uncouple relationships between plants and insects. Crop flowers themselves can provide an important component in the nutrition of wild insect pollinators, contributing significantly to maintenance of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes. However, almost no attempt has been made to analyse the relationships between crops and pollinators, or to assess how it could be improved to the benefit of both yield and biodiversity.
We propose to explore this system with respect to the UK field bean crop. Recent reports suggest that pollination service is limiting yields in field beans. In those areas of the UK where field beans are grown they may represent one of the few significant nectar sources for foraging insects in agricultural landscapes. Our approach will be to explore strategies for optimising field bean flowers to provide maximum energetic reward to pollinators for minimum foraging energy expenditure. We will also investigate the effect of flower-rich margin plantings on bean pollination, considering their role both as traps of herbivorous bruchid beetle and as supporters of wild pollinators.
OBJECTIVES AND APPROACHES
We will use a combination of analytical, behavioural ecology and field-based techniques to explore strategies to enhance pollination. Field trials will be conducted at NIAB and on the PGRO trial sites.
1. Identification of breeding targets for enhanced pollination of and pollinator support by field beans
Our previous work has identified substantial variation between commercially grown field bean lines in traits relevant to pollinator reward and pollinator attraction. Preliminary field trials conducted on the PGRO trial site revealed that some of this variation is associated with enhanced pollinator visitation rate to the crop and enhanced yield. We will unpick these relationships further, to identify targets for breeding field bean varieties that optimally support insect pollination. We will analyse the traits of commercial faba bean flowers that influence pollinator attraction, including reward, visual and scent traits. We will explore the effect of these traits on foraging bumblebees using our bee behavioural laboratory. This study will provide us with a detailed understanding of which features make a field bean flower most attractive to bees. In combination with our previously published work on variation in field bean floral reward, this workpackage will provide breeding targets to optimise field beans as pollinator attractants and supporters of wild pollinator populations.
2. Assessment of the effect of flower-rich field margins on field bean pollination
Our preliminary field trials at PGRO revealed that flower-rich field margins contain substantially increased pollinator diversity and much higher numbers of pollinators than bean crops themselves. It is not clear whether this is an advantage to farmers, in that the wild flower strips bring in pollinators which will also service the crop, or a disadvantage, in that the wild flower strips draw pollinators away from the crop. We will conduct field trials, planting replicated field bean plots with and without flower rich margins. Sweep netting will be used to provide snapshots of insect diversity within the flower rich margins and the crop plots at specified time points. Pollinator observation data will be collected in the bean plots, recording types and numbers of visitors across whole days. In the final year a replicated plot trial will be set up as before at PGRO but harvested after use, to compare yield in plots with and without wild flower strips.
PRIMARY LOCATION OF THIS PHD
This PhD will be based at the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge and registered with the University of Cambridge.
Students will have access to training opportunities through their University to complement their scientific development. This will be augmented by training in key bioscience areas such as statistics through the CTP-SAI.
The project will provide training for the student in morphological and biochemical analysis of flowers, including microscopy and GC-MS; bee behavioural experiments; field trial design; insect identification and recording; data handling and statistics. They will receive additional training in presentation and communication skills, small grant writing, paper writing and project planning.
There will be additional skills training to enhance employability and research capability. All CTP-SAI students will receive Graduate Training in Leadership and Management from MDS (www.mds-ltd.co.uk). Additionally, students will create their Personal Development Plan (PDP) to identify their development needs and areas of strength. Each student will receive individual coaching and mentoring pertinent to their career plans and skills development in addition to the scientific project supervision.
Placements are a key feature of CTP and UKRI-BBSRC expects all doctoral candidates on a CTP programme to undertake a placement. Placements can be in the form of research placements (3-18 months duration) or used more flexibly for experiential learning of professional skills for business and/or entrepreneurship. All placements are developed in collaboration between the partners with input from the doctoral candidate.
APPLICATION AND ELIGIBILITY
Contact Professor Beverley Glover (https://www.plantsci.cam.ac.uk/research/groups/evolution-and-development) for an informal discussion on the research content of this PhD.
Beginning in October 2023, the successful candidate should have (or expect to have) an Honours Degree (or equivalent) with a minimum of 2.1 in Plant Science, Applied Statistics, or other related science subjects. Students with an appropriate Masters degree are particularly encouraged to apply.
We welcome UK, EU, and international applicants. Candidates whose first language is not English must provide evidence that their English language is sufficient to meet the specific demands of their study. Candidates should check the requirements for each host organization they are applying to, but IELTS 6.5 (with no component below 6.0) or equivalent is usually the minimum standard.
Anyone interested should complete the online application form before the deadline of 6th January 2023. Interviews will take place at the end of January/beginning of February 2023.
Please contact [Email Address Removed] for further application details.