Ecology and Agri-Environmental

Crops

Students who join our ecology and agri-environment group typically undertake research in one of the following five areas.

1. Impacts of land use and environmental change on biodiversity
Focus on quantifying the impacts of land use change on biodiversity, from field scale through to landscapes and national levels, and also includes impacts of climate change and other environmental drivers.

2. Relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem services
Understanding the mechanistic basis linking biodiversity to ecosystem function to ecosystem services. Research here aims to identify those components of biodiversity, such as species abundance, diversity and functional traits, which affect the delivery of ecosystem services and their resilience to environmental change.

3. Value of ecosystem service provision
Quantifying the economic (and non-economic) values of service provision and the implications this has for policy and local management practice. A primary focus is on quantifying the contribution of various ecosystem services to crop production, and where appropriate monetising this.

4. Development and appraisal of environmental land management policy
Generating relevant evidence bases to underpin policy development, including evaluation of existing policies for land use management, developing indicators and policy evaluation tools.

5. Stakeholder behaviour and decision making by land managers
Understanding the behaviour of farmers and other land managers, as well as consumers, in response to socio-economic drivers and policies, and how this in turn effects land use decisions.

 

Dr Martin Lukac

PhD admissions lead - Dr Martin Lukac
BSc (Zvolen), MSc (Zvolen), PhD (Bangor)

Associate Professor, Dr Martin Lukac's work focuses on the effects of changing environment on plants and soils, specifically looking at ecosystem carbon cycle, ecosystem functioning and stability with the broad aim of climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Martin's current research involves studying how species, functional and management diversity contributes to productivity and resilience of arable, agroforestry and forest ecosystems. He studies the effects of environmental stressors and their interaction with diversity; works on determining aboveground and belowground productivity. His main focus is on temperate and boreal biomes, but PhD applications relating to other types of environment will be considered.


 

PhD Profile- Louise Hutchinsonlouisehutchinsonwebpage

Research Title: 'Characterizing the Pollinator Communities and Pollination Resilience of Four Economically Important Crops in Great Britain.'

Research Description:

My research aims to investigate which bee species pollinate four of the most economically important crops in Great Britain- this includes; apples; field beans; oilseed rape; and strawberries.

Please give a brief outline and explanation of the work involved and where it's taking place:

Based in the Centre of Agri-Environmental Research within the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, I am analysing large datasets of both field surveys of bee species in crop fields and long-term population trend date of those bee species.

Career Aspirations:

I aspire to become a University Lecturer in Agroecology

Start date: 01/10/2017

Supervisor(s) name: Dr Michael Garratt, Dr Tom Breeze and Professor Tom Oliver

Funding: NERC CDT in Quantitative and Modelling Skills in Ecology and Evolution

Country of Origin: United Kingdom

Why did you choose Reading?

The School of Agriculture, Policy and Development has a long history of world-class pollination research and works with governmental and other organisations across the world. Being in the School has given me the opportunity to work with some of the best Pollination Ecologists in the world. The School, and wider University has a great support network in place for students and the campus is a beautiful place to work.

What interested you in your chosen area of study/research?

I have had an interest in insects since childhood and have become increasingly interested in their importance for human society. Bees are one of the most important pollinators of food crops and so I wanted to conduct research in a field where I could contribute to their conservation in agricultural landscapes.

What work experience have you undertaken to-date?

I haven't been involved in any work experience per se, however I have been involved in a number of outreach activities on behalf of the University of Reading. In both 2018 and 2019, I participated in 'Bees Needs Week' which is an annual event coordinated by DEFRA, working alongside charities, businesses, conservation groups and academic institutions to help raise awareness of bees and other pollinators. My role has been to talk to members of the public about bees, their ecology and role in food production.

Do you feel that such placements have benefited your study and future development?

Yes, it allowed me to network with a range of charities and organisations that work in bee conservation. I was also able to develop my skills at explaining my research to members of the public.

Please outline the different kinds of learning experience that you feel you have most benefited from.

To date, attending conferences and seminars have been particularly useful as they have allowed me not only to network with other researchers but provided me with opportunities to get feedback on my own research.

What are your key achievements since starting your PhD?

I have just finished writing the manuscript of my first scientific paper, which I am currently in the process of getting published.

What have you enjoyed most about your research?

Having the opportunity to attend events where I have been able to meet people working in similar research areas from all across the world. For example, I spent a week in Malta on a bee course with other PhD students from across Europe!

How do you think this qualification will help you in the future?

It will allow me to apply my ecological knowledge of bees to the real world application of food production and provide me with the tools to pursue a research career in Agroecology.

Is there a particular element associated with your research that you would like to specialise in later in your career?

I am particularly interested in the role of insect pollination of food crops. Whilst my PhD currently focuses on bees, I would like to expand my research into other pollinating insects in the future, especially Hoverflies.

Would you recommend a PhD to other students, if so why?

Yes I would, a PhD is a unique learning experience. It's the first opportunity as a student to really drive your own research and learning and to become an expert in an area of research which interests you. 



 

PhD Profile- Nicolas Bucknickbuck123

Research Title: 'The impacts of novel control strategies for Spotted Wing Drosophila (Drosophila suzukii) on ecosystem services and crop production in raspberries.'

Research Description:

My PhD project is focused on the impacts of novel control strategies for the invasive fruit fly 'Spotted Wing Drosophilia' (Drosophilia suzukii) on different ecosystem services and crop production on UK raspberry farms. With the support of NIAB EMR and BerryWorld, I am working with BerryWorld farms to use insect mesh netting as barriers on the ends of polytunnels to limit D. suzukii entry to the crop, while assessing the impacts this mesh has on; crop pollination by wild pollinators; entry to the crop of other pests and natural enemies (i.e. parasitic wasps); resulting fruit yield and quality; and tunnel microclimates.

Please give a brief outline and explanation of the work involved and where it's taking place:

In replicated field trials, I sample 'Spotted Wing Drosophilia' numbers in tunnels with traps, check their emergence from fruit, tap sample raspberry canes for other pests and natural enemies and use data loggers to monitor temperature and humidity in the tunnels. I also assess the fruit produced under meshed and control tunnels against a range of quality metrics such as mass, length, width, mould, bleed, sooty shoulder, colour and shape. This gives an idea of the marketability of fruit produced under a treatment which aims to limit pest entry to the tunnel. While being based at the University of Reading, I work on three farms- one in Berkshire and two in the West Sussex area.

Career Aspirations:

On completion of my PhD, I wish to enter into the industrial sector in a role similar to what I am currently studying. My long-term aspiration is to work with growers of soft fruits to continue to provide efficient and ecologically safe control methods for not only Spotted Wing Drosophilia but a range of other pests associated with soft fruit. I am also open to the idea of a post-doctoral position and possibly teaching further down the line.

Start date: 3 Sep 2018

Supervisor(s) name: Dr Michael Garratt

Funding: BBSRC funded - Part of Waitrose CTP

Expected Completion Date: 23 Sep 2022

Country of Origin: England (U.K.)

Why did you choose Reading?

I chose Reading as I had read online about their leading position in Agricultural research, an area I had been increasingly interested in while enrolled on my MSc Entomology course at Harper Adams University. I applied for a field technician role with the University of Reading's Centre for Agri-Environmental Research Department under Dr Michael Garratt. This involved joining the team on a project identifying the benefits of pollination to commercial apple orchards and key pollinators associated with apples. Fieldwork involved carrying out floral visitor transects of pollinators, bagging floral trusses, carrying out hand pollination of apple flowers and assessing the apples produced from this study against different quality metrics. After several months of this rewarding work I learned about the upcoming PhD opportunities they were advertising and saw a range of exciting PhD courses available. Aside from working in a friendly department on a beautiful campus, the University's location is perfectly situated for me with many transport links and isn't too far from my family home in London.

What interested you in your chosen area of study/research?

What interested me in pest management was the speed at which certain pest groups can spread, providing growers with new challenges in producing maximum yields while keeping these pest populations at bay. I thoroughly enjoy the fast-paced nature of crop management and while I acknowledge there are many aspects of crop management that go into the resulting yield, the importance of pest protection methods highlights the seriousness of the research area in which I felt compelled to get involved with- I also really like raspberries!

What work experience have you undertaken to-date?

I undertook a week long placement, visiting the headquarters of my industrial partners- BerryWorld, visiting the pack houses they work with and shadowing their Technical team to greenhouses where they forecast strawberry yields for the upcoming season. I am also currently planning another placement with BerryWorld Spain, where I hope to assess pest pressures at BerryWorld's Spanish site and carry out a comparative analysis on pest protection methods and their efficacies between British and Spanish growers.

Do you feel that such placements have benefited your study and future development?

I feel this placement provided me with an insight into companies like BerryWorld that work with growers and pack houses to ensure a steady production and distribution of soft fruit. This, I feel will be important when moving into employment as it has provided me with a glimpse into the logistics of how the industry works.

Please outline the different kinds of learning experience that you feel you have most benefited from.

Since beginning my PhD, the areas that I've improved on the most as a result of the nature of my work are; my ability to work on many types of sampling in one field day; to talk to site managers about the different methods of crop protection; and my organisational skills.

I also greatly appreciate the University's RRDP training programme, as it is a very useful tool in our development as researchers during our time at the University. Some of my favourite RRDP training courses so far have been 'Poster Making', 'Presentation Skills' and 'Increasing Concentration'.

What are your key achievements since starting your PhD?

My key achievements so far include my first year poster for the 'Poster Session' at the Waitrose CTP Science Day in Warwick; passing my Confirmation of Registration assessment in February 2020; completing a full first draft of my literature review; and making good connections with site managers whose farms I work on in the spring and summer periods.

What have you enjoyed most about your research?

So far, I have most enjoyed being in the field and carrying out surveys on the impacts of mesh on pest and pollinator presence in the crops and measuring the resulting fruit quality in the lab. I have also enjoyed talking to site managers and pickers about the progress of the crop throughout the season, providing an insight into what it's like to maintain a soft fruit farm throughout the busy seasons.

How do you think this qualification will help you in the future?

I feel that on completion of my PhD, I will have gained a much wider knowledge based on tackling pest populations in soft fruit in efficient and sustainable ways while maximising crop yields. I will also have more experience in talking to growers and land owners on how to provide efficient controls on pest groups- this is a skill I feel will greatly benefit me in future employment roles.

Is there a particular element associated with your research that you would like to specialise in later in your career?

While I'm applying the methods of crop protection at the moment to Spotted Wing Drosophila, the same and other similar methods could be used for a range of other pests associated with raspberries. So instead of specialising on a particular area, I would like to expand the range of soft fruit pests I could work on.

Would you recommend a PhD to other students, if so why?

For those who wish to further their career in a research capacity, albeit with a final aim of going into academia, industry or simply wanting to learn more about a specific area then I would highly recommend enrolling on a PhD course as there is so much more to experience than what is just provided on the advertisement brief. This can include opportunities for planning your own placements, attending conferences, making professional contacts and learning about the wider impact of your study focus arise that you could not predict prior to starting. It is one of the most beneficial and rewarding things you could do to prepare for your long-term goals. I would add that having a hobby which is unrelated to your PhD is healthy for your work-life balance. There are many societies at the University to check out- this year I'm the president of the DocSoc (the PhD/post-grad society) which is very rewarding.


 

PhD Profile: Syed Amir Manzoorsyedamirmanzoor1

Research Title: 'Deducing space from time: Predicting the distribution of invasive species under climate and land-use change scenarios'

Research Description: I am interested in the development of techniques to project land use into the future. I am currently working with the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales and as a member of the GCRF-funded 'Sentinel' project in collaboration with the International Institute for Environment & Development (IIED), which aims to model the impact of agricultural expansion on forest biodiversity in sub-Saharan Africa. I am looking into how land management policies are likely to impact future land use and how the future climate and land-use change will impact biodiversity, especially the spread of invasive species in different ecosystems.

What interested you in your chosen area of study/research?

I have always been interested in addressing ecological problems to inform stakeholders and contribute to policy-making. Since ecological modelling is a very useful tool to facilitate evidence-based policy-making, I opted to specialise in this area.

Career Aspirations:

I am fascinated by the way patterns of global changes link to the underlying processes and how understanding this relationship contributes to long-term conservation policies. In future, I can see myself working in academia, as the prospect of working for a University and engaging with policy-makers is very appealing to me.

Start date: September 2016

Supervisor(s) name: Dr Martin Lukac & Dr Geoffrey Griffiths

Funding: Commonwealth Scholarship Commission

Relevant Research Groups: Centre for Agri-Environmental Research

Expected Completion Date: June 2020

Country of Origin: Pakistan

Why did you choose Reading?

I chose to study at Reading as it is one of the leading Universities in the world for agriculture and environmental research. The quality of academic supervision here has been as good as it can get, which has played a key role in my progress so far.

What work experience have you undertaken to-date?

I am currently working with the International Institute of Environment & Development (IIED, London) as a 'Spatial Analyst' and as a student demonstrator in the School of Agriculture, Policy & Development.

In addition, I am working as a Lecturer in the Department of Forestry, Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan, Pakistan.

Please outline the different kinds of learning experience that you feel you have most benefited from.

During my PhD studies, I have attended several training courses in both the UK and across Europe, where I have received certifications from many online sources on geospatial and statistically modelling, adding great value to my PhD. I have also been able to present my work at different national and international conferences which has helped to build my confidence.

What are your key achievements since starting your PhD?

To date, I have produced 11 research papers, six of which are already published in peer-reviewed journals, receiving over 40 citations so far. A key achievement for me, was one of my papers that was published in 'Scientific Reports' being declared among the top 100 papers published in the field of ecology during 2018. Other achievements have included a nomination for the PhD Researcher of the Year award in 2019, winning the '3 Minute Thesis' competition in London, June 2018, a job placement at the International Institute for Environment & Development and winning a travel grant from the University of Reading.

How do you think this qualification will help you in the future?

Undertaking a PhD at Reading has added a huge value to my technical and professional skills. As I plan to start a career in academia in coming years, I am confident this qualification has sufficiently equipped me with the expertise needed to be ready for this position.

Would you recommend a PhD to other students, if so why?

The decision to pursue a PhD can be complex. My foremost advice would be to make an honest assessment if you are motivated for research as a PhD can be time-consuming, highly demanding and sometimes a frustrating experience. However, a PhD does not just improve technical skills, it can also be a life-changing experience. It has been a pleasure to study at the University of Reading.

 

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