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PhD Studentship: Exploring Nature’s Pharmacy for Pollinator Health

London Interdisciplinary Biosciences Consortium - Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway, University of London

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Egham
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: £20,622 per annum
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 20th October 2023
Closes: 10th December 2023

The majority of flowering plants rely on pollination by insects and this ecosystem service is also key for crop production. Consequently, pollinator health is central to the maintenance of healthy plant communities and human health. Insect pollinators are in decline at local and global scales, posing a threat to the ecosystem service they provide. Most flowering plants reward pollinators through the provision of nectar and excess pollen. Traditionally, these have been viewed simplistically as resources that provide energy, through carbohydrates, and nutrition, through proteins, to insect pollinators. However, recent work has demonstrated that plants also contribute to pollinator health through the provision of other nutritional (e.g., lipids and minerals) and potentially medicinal chemicals. Previous work in our research groups showed that secondary chemicals produced by heather (Calluna) and lime trees (Tilia) can prevent and control parasitic infection in an important pollinator, the buff-tailed bumble bee (Bombus terrestris). This, together with other studies suggests that plants may have evolved to act as a natural pharmacy for their insect pollinators. This PhD studentship will test this hypothesis through a suite of laboratory and field experiments with a taxonomically broad array of insect pollinator species. You will design experiments to test whether the benefits of antiparasitic nectar compounds can be extrapolated from B. terrestris to the broader pollinator community. To determine the potential for plants to confer these ‘medicinal’ benefits to pollinators, you will design targeted field campaigns to determine the pollen and nectar forage of insect pollinators across the UK, and use chemical analyses to identify secondary compounds with potential anti-parasitic effects. Follow-up laboratory experiments will confirm the value of these compounds for pollinator health. Overall, this project will determine the chemical benefits of pollen and nectar for pollinator health at unprecedented depth and breadth, and enable a recalculation of the natural capital of nectar-producing flowers beyond their current value as an energy source for pollinators. As pollination is key to human health, this also has potential to impact human well-being and prosperity.

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