I started my NERC CENTA DTP PhD in the School of Earth, Environment and Ecosystems in October 2017. I am an ecological entomologist and my main interests lie in how plants and insects interact.
My research title is "Sexually deceptive bee orchid pollination strategies: is one true love or broad sex appeal the best?" and my PhD is supervised by Dr Julia Cooke, Professor David Gowing, and Professor Claire Turner.
My video entry about bee orchid pollination was awarded a Highly Commended prize in the 2017 FindAPhD scholarship competition. Previously, I graduated with an MSc in Entomology from Harper Adams University, and was awarded the Royal Entomological Society 2015 student prize for academic achievement. My MSc was funded through an RES scholarship, and grants from the Chadacre Agricultural Trust, The Ruby and Will George Trust, and The Humanitarian Trust.
Background to the project
Most flowering plants attract pollinators by offering them a reward, such as sugar-rich nectar or protein-rich pollen. The bee orchid genus Ophrys is different because they attract insect pollinators by mimicking the attractive visual, olfactory and tactile signals of the female insect. The male insects are tricked into attempting to copulate with the flowers, and carry pollen from one flower to the next as they do so. This sexually deceptive strategy relies on the plants being able to mimic the insect closely enough to fool the male insects and circumvent their learnt avoidance of the flowers.
With plants and animals under increasing pressure from habitat loss, land-use changes, pollution and pesticides, climate change, and loss of associated species; it is imperative to understand how ecological systems function in order to predict their responses in an uncertain future. The pollination strategies of Ophrys orchids are not fully understood, and therefore cannot fully predict how they might respond to various pressures.
Is attracting one pollinator species more effectively better than attracting many pollinator species less effectively, in terms of pollination rates? If a pollinator is no longer required, as with the self-pollinating Ophrys apifera, will the attractive signals be lost? This project aims to answer these questions and thereby contribute to the conservation efforts for these charming flowers.
I love enthusing people about the wonders of the natural world, and can often be found chatting to people about insects, plants and ecology at events like the Dorothy Clive Gardens Mini-Beast Adventure.