Invertebrate communities in hollowing trees
This research project is in competition for funding with one or more projects available across the NERC GW4 Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP). Usually the projects which receive the best applicants will be awarded the funding. Find out more information about the DTP and how to apply.
Application deadline: 7 January 2018
Start date: October 2018
DTP research theme: Living World, Changing Planet
Co-supervisor: Dr Adam Vanbergen, NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology Edinburgh.
Some of the invertebrate species (eg, the rare violet click beetle) are highly specialised on rotted wood of specific tree and/or wood decay fungal species. In addition, many of these taxa typically are attracted by specific stimuli, often emanating from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released during the decay process.
Given the susceptibility of veteran trees and the often-irreversible nature of their loss, the specialist fauna associated with heart-rot habitats is often endangered.
Despite heart-rot having first been investigated almost 200 years ago our knowledge of the invertebrates dependent on this habitat is very limited. Understanding the requirements of the fauna and what makes these habitats attractive, is essential to develop strategies for effective conservation of such micro-ecosystems.
Project aims and methods
This project aims to define how heart-rot decay characteristics, succession and landscape context govern the composition and structure of fungal-invertebrate assemblages, including insects of high conservation value (e.g. the red-listed violet click beetle, Limoniscus violaceus). By quantifying the presence and relative frequency of organisms, trophic links may be inferred to construct a food-web.
This information will help guide conservation at sites where a generation gap exists between veteran trees with heart-rot and un-decayed trees, which will not undergo heart-rot for some time.
The study builds on an earlier PhD project investigating fungal community composition in heart-rot and the potential for inducing heart-rot to increase its presence as a rare habitat. Using a combination of traditional taxonomic and culturing approaches, and more recently applied molecular (eg next generation sequencing) and chemical (eg GCMS) techniques, the invertebrate communities associated with beech tree (Fagus sylvatica) heart-rot will be quantified.
Specifically, the project sets out to determine:
- the composition, and abundance and structure (e.g. network architecture) of the heart-rot invertebrate assemblages
- whether these communities vary according to location and characteristics of individual trees
- the dependency of rare invertebrate species and community structure upon particular fungal species underpinning the food web.
The project will suit candidates who have research experience in invertebrate biology/ ecology. The successful candidates will possess an enthusiastic attitude towards field and laboratory work, but also a willingness to develop generic skills in molecular and chemical analysis. An aptitude for data / statistical analysis (e.g. R) would be required.
This is a CASE Award Project with Natural England; past collaborative projects have been very successful with direct management benefit/impact. The student will spend extended periods working directly with the CASE partner.
Based on previous collaboration, an initial period discussing and selecting optimal field sites will be essential, followed by annual periods of stay throughout the studentship to ensure that work completed not only meets academic and scientific expectations, but also provides useful and applicable conservation/management context.
You will receive training in from working with three established researchers, as a member of the Organisms and Environment (OnE) Division, you will also be able to take advantage of divisional research seminars and workshops. Skills development will be available through both NERC GW4+ DTP and Cardiff University’s Doctoral Academy Programme, providing an integrated research and professional skills portfolio of workshops, online materials and other events.
There will be training in experimental design, literature review and meta-analysis, data analysis, and culturing techniques. There will also be training opportunities in both molecular and chemical analytical approaches. Transferable skills include: report/article writing, poster/oral presentations, and project management.
Previous PhD graduates have gone on to successful careers in research (industry and academia), research management, scientific civil service, conservation management and policy briefing.
References and background reading
- A’Bear, A.D., Boddy, L. and Jones, T.H. (2012) Impacts of elevated temperature on the growth and functioning of decomposer fungi are influenced by grazing collembola. Global Change Biology 18: 1823-1832
- Boddy L, Hiscox J, Gilmartin EC, Johnston S, Heilmann-Clausen J (2017). Decay communities in angiosperm wood. In The Fungal Community (eds J Dighton & JF White) CRC Press. Pp. 169-189.
- Crowther, T.W., Boddy, L and Jones, T.H. (2011) Outcomes of fungal interactions are determined by soil invertebrate grazers. Ecology Letters 14: 1134-1142
- Gouix, N., Sebek, P., Valladares, L. and Brustel, H. (2015) Habitat requirements of the violet click beetle (Limoniscus violaceus), an endangered umbrella species of basal hollow trees. Insect Conservation and Diversity 8: 418-427.
- Hynes, J., Muller, C.T., Jones, T.H. and Boddy, L. (2007) Changes in volatile production during the course of fungal mycelial interactions between Hypholoma fasiculare and Resincium bicolor. Journal of Chemical Ecology 33: 43-57.
- Kirby, K. and Watkins, C. (eds) (2015) Europe’s Changing Woods and Forests: from wildwood to managed landscapes. CABI. 391pp.
- Vanbergen, A. J., Woodcock, B.A., Heard, M.S. and Chapman, D.S. (2017) Network size, structure and mutualism dependence affect the propensity for plant–pollinator extinction cascades. Functional Ecology 31:1285-1293.
- Vanbergen, A.J., Woodcock, B.A. et al. (2010) Trophic level modulates carabid beetle responses to habitat and landscape structure: a pan-European study. Ecological Entomology 35: 226-235.
Dr Adam Vanbergen, NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology Edinburgh.