Which flower margin mixes are the best at supporting pollinators?

This project aims to assess the different insect communities that visit flowering margins planted as part of a field trial running at Rothamsted Research.

Department: Agri-Environment

Supervised by: Prof Simon Potts

The Placement Project

How to feed billions more people whilst reducing farming’s impact on our environment is a critical question facing the agricultural sector. Many propose ‘ecological intensification’ is a solution. Here, ecological intensification means harnessing regulating ecosystem services like pollination and natural pest control rather than relying on external actions or artificial inputs (e.g. insecticides). However, there is little work on how to change farming practices on a commercial scale to reduce the impact of agriculture. This UROP placement will benefit from access to large-scale experiments exploring solutions to this problem. An EU project EcoStack, a UK project ASSIST and a Waitrose/Industry funded PhD, will allow the student to work towards developing ecological intensification approaches within commercial farms. The aim of this placement is to assess the pollinating insects that visit five different flowering mixes planted out on a field-trial at Rothamsted Research (Harpenden, Hertfordshire). The student will sample the insect communities present at these margin mixes to help build a fuller picture of the potential of the different mixes to support pollinators. The placement will allow the student to learn about different field-based techniques that can be used to assess insect communities. The student can also learn how to score plant flowering and conduct vegetation surveys. In addition to the field trial running on Rothamsted Farm, the student may visit a commercial field-trials with an opportunity to work with other researchers and farm managers.


The student will be working under the supervision of a PhD student (Hannah McGrath) and with a range of Rothamsted staff (e.g. field entomologists). The following tasks will be carried out, supported by high quality training: Fieldwork: - Visually recording insects present at margin plots around the farm (insect identification skills) - Visually assessing flowering rate and scoring plant vegetation at the margin plots (field recording skills) - Monitoring pitfall and/or water traps and/or assisting with Vortis vacuum sampling (learning multiple sampling methods) - Visiting other fieldwork sites on commercial farms (conducting research in real world settings) Lab/office work - Processing insect samples collected from margins (insect taxonomy) - Data processing and analysis before presenting data (statistical and presentation skills)

Skills, knowledge and experience required

Qualifications: • In the process of acquiring a degree in a related subject i.e. agriculture, ecology, environmental management, biology etc. Essential Skills and Knowledge: • Some field or lab work experience • Willingness to carry out fieldwork • Ability to follow protocols • Attention to detail • Ability to work independently (but as part of a team) • Ability to work flexibly and adaptably • Basic knowledge of entomology, and experience with identification or study of insects is desirable but not essential. • Driving license desirable BUT not essential

Skills which will be developed during the placement

- Identification of common insect pollinators - Plant identification of sown plants and common weeds - Knowledge of field trial design, sampling and management - Knowledge of ecosystem service measurement - Better understanding of horticulture sector and agronomy - Experience working between science/academia and industry - Use of diversity indices or other appropriate metrics to compare insect communities

Place of Work

Fieldwork will take place at Rothamsted Research (1 hr from Reading) and sample processing and analyses will be done at Reading and/or Rothamsted Research. There is also the possibility of visiting other fieldwork sites in commercial fields, but this would always be accompanied. Accommodation is available at a cost at Rothamsted Research if required.

Hours of Work

9 – 5* *Because of the nature of field sampling, the student will be able to adapt the workload depending on field and weather conditions. But it is anticipated that most work will occur between 9-5.

Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Thursday 20 June 2019 - Saturday 31 August 2019

How to Apply

Students should submit a 1-page CV and 1-page Cover Letter directly to Hannah McGrath ( Successful candidates will then be invited to interview (by Skype if necessary).

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