PROTECTS (Protecting Terrestrial Ecosystems Through Sustainable Pesticide Use)

We have received funding from the Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) under their Research Funding programme for a new project called PROTECTS. We will provide baseline information in an Irish context to build towards mitigating the effects of pesticide use on terrestrial ecosystem services, focussing on pollinators and soils.

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This project brings together several of the members of the Irish Pollinator Research Network (IPRN) and is an interdisciplinary, multi-institutional 4-year project, starting 1st July 2018.

Dara Stanley (UCD) will lead the project, which involves researchers from Trinity College Dublin (Jane Stout), Maynooth University (Jim Carolan), Dublin City University (Blanaid White), and Teagasc (Karl Richards). Our findings will help to ensure that pesticides can be used safely while protecting wildlife, health and the environment, both in Ireland and internationally.

There are two PhD studentships currently available at TCD and DCU (details below). Successful candidates will join two other PhD students on the project team.

TCD studentship: Characterising pesticide residues in floral resources for bees

In this PhD project, the potential for pesticide contamination of floral resources as a result of translocation from soil will be evaluated. This translocation to floral products poses a major route of exposure of pollinators to pesticides. Working with other members of the PROTECTS team, we will identify four systemic pesticides which are a) extensively in Irish agricultural systems and b) potentially have negative impacts on pollinating insects. We will develop and validate extraction protocols for these pesticides from the floral resource matrices of nectar and pollen, collect samples from model species from field sites, complete laboratory-based chemical analyses and determine residue presence/concentrations in nectar and pollen to compare with soil-level contamination. In addition, methods for screening residues from nectar and pollen samples for rapid assessment of toxicity of floral rewards will be developed, and nectar extracts will be utilised directly in bee exposure experiments.

DCU studentship: Developing tools for pesticide detection and toxicity testing in soils and floral resources for bees

In this PhD project, we will collect soil samples from sites across Ireland and characterise these soils in terms of their physical and chemical properties, and their microbial communities. We will develop methods to extract pesticide residues from these soils, and analyse these extracts using GC-MS and HPLC-MS methodologies to determine which pesticide residues are present, and at what concentration. The extracted pesticide residues will also be used to determine their impact on pollinator species. We will also use the developed analytical tools to determine what pesticide residues are present in associated floral resource matrices for bees, in particular nectar and pollen. Finally, we will also develop a soil toxicity biosensor and apply this to screen the soil extracts.

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