Jonathan Ashworth

Jonathan Ashworth


My undergraduate degree was in Ecology, but I have subsequently focussed on plants; first via the Biodiversity and Taxonomy of Plants MSc at Edinburgh, and more recently, another masters in Plant Genomics and Biotechnology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

As a mature student I have been involved in various projects over the years. In the herbarium at Kew I supported the Wet Tropics of Africa team, managing specimens and working on reports focussed on west African botany. Linked to this, for Kew and the Wildlife Conservation Society, I had the opportunity to lead a botanical survey of a gorilla reserve in Cameroon; and was subsequently able to use some of the same field skills in in the coffee region of Colombia and volunteering and fragmented forests of Guatemala amongst other places. In the UK I have volunteered for several of the Wildlife Trusts as well as the National Trust and British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. I am passionate about conservation and my main academic interest is in plant diversity and evolutionary which is why I am so excited about my PhD at the Earlham Institute.

PhD title: Biodiversity, wellbeing and colour: wildflower genomics to inform the creation of new habitats

With a growing awareness of the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and loss of native species, restoration projects and organisations in the UK increasingly promote the use of native wildflower seed mixes. This demand has led to the wide commercial availability of ‘wildflower seed mix’ products. However, the methods by which these seeds are sourced (selected from the source population), processed and ‘bulked’ to produce commercial quantities risk losses of genetic diversity at each stage. Therefore, unlike natural populations, which typically have a great deal of genetic diversity which provides resilience to weather changing conditions from year to year; these genetically impoverished populations derived from wildflower seed mixes may be highly vulnerable to changes in climate, community dynamics, land use, pollinators etc over time.

My project will work with the Earlham Institute and the Eden Project National Wildflower Centre to quantify and analyse this process of genetic loss and its significance by sampling, sequencing and phenotyping the seed product at each stage in the wildflower seed production process as well as in the natural source population, with the ultimate aim of developing an alternative production process that maximally retains diversity and therefore resilience in the final product.