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The impacts of climate change on pollinator-plant interactions

Institute of Integrative Biology

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Dr R Whitlock , Dr K L Evans , Dr C García No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Climate change has pervasive impacts on biological diversity, determining species persistence, geographical distributions, trait expression and genetic composition. These changes combine to alter the diversity, structure and function of ecological communities. Impacts are hard to predict, however, because they are frequently driven by interactions and feedbacks between co-existing and interacting species. This project will use one of the world’s longest running climate change manipulation experiments (> 25 years) on species rich limestone grassland to provide novel insights into how temperature and precipitation alter plant-insect interactions, alter the quality of resources available to insects, and feedback to influence plant reproductive success and fitness. Specifically, the project will quantify how:

i) Changes in temperature and precipitation have altered flowering phenology and the structure of plant-pollinator networks (e.g. diversity of pollinating species, strength of interactions etc.)

ii) Changes in temperature and precipitation have altered the quality of plant resources to the insect community, for example changes in nectar composition (influencing pollinators) and changes in leaf carbon:nitrogen ratios (influencing palatability for insect herbivores).

iii) Changes in plant-pollinator networks influence seed set and seed quality in pollinated plants, and assess if the direction and magnitude of these impacts are predictable from plant traits

The project’s focal system is the Buxton Climate Change Impacts Lab (BCCIL) a natural grassland ecosystem in which fully replicated plots have been exposed to more than 25 years of drought, warming and additional precipitation treatments alongside control plots. Our work has revealed climate impacts on grassland community structure, and that plant populations are adapting their phenology and reproductive strategy through phenotypic plasticity and evolution. The student will have full access to this world leading experiment where detailed field observations can be conducted and to plant lines that capture the genetic divergence generated under long-term climatic selection.

Funding Notes

Competitive funding of tuition fee, research costs and stipend (£15,009 tax-free, 2019-20) from the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership “Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment” (ACCE, ). ACCE – a collaboration between the Universities of Liverpool, Sheffield,and York – is the only dedicated ecology/evolution/conservation Doctoral Training Partnership in the UK.

Applications (CV, letter of application, 2 referees) by email to [Email Address Removed] deadline: January 8th 2020. Interviews in or after the week commencing : 10th February 2020. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed for only one project from the ACCE partnership.


Trinder, SA, Askew, AP & Whitlock, R. In press. “Climate-driven evolutionary change in reproductive and early-acting life-history traits in the perennial grass Festuca ovina”. Journal of Ecology.

Ravenscroft, CH, Whitlock, R and Fridley, JD. 2015. “Rapid genetic divergence in response to 15 years of simulated climate change” Global Change Biology, 21, 4165–4176.
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