Pollination Research in Trinity: Agrochemicals and Plant-Pollinator Interactions

I am a postdoctoral research associate at Trinity College Dublin. My advisor is Prof. Jane Stout and I am funded on a Marie Curie Sklodowska Fellowship. It’s a two year program for foreign scholars to study in the EU, and my proposal for the fellowship addressed the impact of agricultural runoff (fertiliser and herbicide) on the structure of the interactions between pollinators and the weedy plants that grow on the edge of agricultural fields. To better understand the way that low concentrations of fertiliser and herbicide can change the way plants and pollinators interact, I have designed a field experiment.

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One of my research plots. Image credit: Laura Russo.

The field experiment involves 4 treatments: a control (only water), and very low concentrations of herbicide, fertilizer, and a combination treatment of fertiliser and herbicide. This means that I have four experimental plots, replicated at four sites in south Dublin (16 total plots). These 2x2m plots are then planted with the same community of weedy plants: Plantago lanceolata, Filipendula ulmaria, Epilobium hirsutum, Cirsium vulgare, Origanum vulgare, Hypochaeris radicata, and Phacelia tanacetifolia. All of these are native perennials to Ireland, except the Phacelia, which is both non-native and annual.

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The flowers of Plantago lanceolata. Image credit: Laura Russo.

I’ve been applying the experimental treatments throughout the spring, and once the plants began to flower, I started collecting data on the interactions between the plants and their pollinators in the different treatments, to see if pollinators react differently to plants that have been exposed to low levels of herbicide or fertilizer.

I’m accompanying this field experiment with a glasshouse experiment where I treat different potted individuals with the same low concentration runoff levels and then measure changes in their pollen and nectar, a likely mechanism for any possible changes in their interactions with pollinators.

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Epilobium hirsutum flower with pollen. Image credit: Laura Russo.

It’s too soon to tell whether my treatments are having an effect on the pollinators, but I am gathering a lot of exciting data, both on the health of the plants, and on the nature of their interactions with insects.

I’m also interested in adding new replicates next year, so contact me if you have space for four 2x2m pollinator garden plots!

Dr Laura Russo (@lrusso08) is a postdoctoral research fellow at Trinity funded by a Marie Curie Sklodowska Fellowship. She is studying the impact of agricultural runoff, both fertilizer and herbicide, on communities of plants and their insect pollinators (https://www.tcd.ie/Botany/staff/stout/project-effects-of-fertilisation.php).

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