The Restoration of Ecological Function.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Biological Sciences


In 'The Space for Nature' a 120 page government report released in September 2010, Lawton and colleagues ask how we can enhance the natural environment in England in the face of climate change and other environmental insults. Their report argues that the answer is 'large-scale habitat creation and restoration, under-pinned by the re-establishment of ecological processes and ecosystem services, these being for the benefits of both people and wildlife'. In this NERC studentship proposal The University of Bristol and The Somerset Wildlife Trust will work collaboratively on habitat restoration and the restoration of two ecosystem services, those of pollination and pest control. Collaborations between academics and practitioners are likely to lead to the most effective conservation (Editorial 2008, Nature: 450, 135-136) with the former providing expertise in experimental design, statistics and the scientific context, and the latter providing logistical help (here, large scale field manipulations), detailed knowledge of field sites and habitat management expertise. We will test whether the restoration of one species can facilitate the restoration of other parts of the community, namely the large community of bees, flies, beetles and butterflies that visit flowers for pollen and nectar, ie. an ecological 'two for the price of one'. It has been possible to identify dominant or keystone plants in all the plant-pollinator communities studied so far by Memmott. Thus the approach is readily applicable to a range of communities worldwide and could provide a scientific basis for which plant species to restore and could also jump start the restoration of ecosystem services. Our model study system is the ongoing restoration of Sium latifolium (greater water parsnip) in the Somerset Levels. Memmott's pilot data on S. latifolium at two sites in Norfolk indicates that this species, like others in the same plant family, is highly attractive to flower visitors. Many parasitoids (providers of pest control in agroecosystems) were also found feeding on the S. latifolium flowers. For this studentship the Somerset Wildlife Trust will plant out populations of S. latifolium at eight sites in the Somerset Levels, with a further eight sites left as controls. A successful pilot transplantation took place in 2008/9 at the field site. A paired design will be used and at each of the 16 sites, quantitative plant-pollinator network will be made and the structure of the webs compared. This approach has proved a highly publishable approach for Memmott's students. For example Carvalheiro et al. (2008) Carvalheiro, Buckley & Memmott (2010), Lopezaraiza et al. (2007), Heleno et al. (2009 & 2010). All references are listed under 'Supervisors'. A second Somerset Levels restoration programme, still at a very preliminary stage, is the reintroduction of the swallowtail butterfly (Papillo machaon britannicus). While not important from an ecological function point of view, the restoration of this iconic species would provide a tremendous local attraction (tourism, like pollination and pest control, is an ecosystem service) and huge potential for environmental education about the habitat in general. Whether or not the swallowtail was actually a resident species remains a subject of some debate though. Using a molecular approach we will determine whether specimens of swallowtail butterflies in museums local to the Somerset Levels are from populations different to those found in museums close to sites where good evidence exists as to their presence. At the University the student will join a vibrant group of 5 PhD students, a PDRA, two Research Fellows and a £1.3 million grant on urban pollinators led by Memmott. At the Somerset Wildlife Trust, the student will be a member of an active team of conservation practitioners involved in agroecology, conservation, public engagement and school activities.


10 25 50