Effects of farmland management on functional ecomorphology of pollinator assemblages
Lead supervisors: Dr Richard Davies
Location: School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia
Duration: 8 weeks
Suitable undergraduate degrees: Biological Sciences, Conservation Biology, Ecology, Environmental Sciences, Zoology
The pollination of crops and wildflowers in agricultural landscapes is an important ecosystem service under threat from agricultural intensification. Agri-environment schemes aim to mitigate the negative impacts of farming on biodiversity. In the case of pollinators, these schemes have included the establishment of field margins to boost floral resources available to pollinating insects and to enhance pollination services. Floral enhancements have largely targeted bees, especially bumblebees. Nevertheless, uncertainty remains around their effectiveness for other important pollinator groups, including hoverflies. Hoverflies are a highly diverse insect group, with wide inter-specific niche variations influencing both their responses to anthropogenic environmental changes and contributions to ecosystem services.
Functional eco-morphological trait-based research on pollinator species can aid our understanding of the mechanisms linking farmland management schemes, pollinator assemblages and pollination services. Hoverfly traits such as length and form of structures of the proboscis are known to correlate with inter-specific variation in the proportions of pollen and nectar in the diet, and in pollination efficiency (Doyle et al 2020). Yet availability of ecomorphological trait data across hoverfly assemblages occurring in UK farmland landscapes remains relatively sparse. Such data are needed to provide a more mechanistic understanding of assemblage-wide responses to farmland management.
This internship project aims to contribute to a wider project on understanding the influence of floral enhancement of arable field margins on functional structure of pollinator assemblages. The internship will focus on hoverfly assemblages and will fulfill three key objectives: (1) the measurement of functional morphometric and dietary trait variables of hoverfly species previously sampled on arable field margins; (2) integration of morphometric data from objective (1) with available online data on functional traits of the same hoverfly species; (3) use of data collated via the first two objectives in a statistical analysis of the influence of field margin management treatment and landscape variables on functional and ecomorphological structure of hoverfly assemblages. Specifically, the analysis will investigate effects on traits predicting dietary preference (pollen versus nectar) and implications for pollination effectiveness.
Additionally, it is intended that the internship will include a short fieldwork component during which the intern will gain experience of pollinator field surveying methods. This is contingent on the evolving national covid-19 situation and ongoing relaxation of social distancing restrictions affecting fieldwork transport arrangements.
Applicants should have a developing interest in community and conservation ecology and in ecological entomology. Desirable aptitudes include: a meticulous and methodical approach; good team-working and communication skills; initiative and independence. All necessary training will be provided.
Doyle, T. et al. (2020) Pollination by hoverflies in the Anthropocene. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B 287: 20200508. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2020.0508