Post-doctoral research assistants wanted for INCASE project

We are seeking two postdoctoral researchers to join the INCASE (Irish Natural Capital Accounting for Sustainable Environments) team, one based at TCD (from May 1st 2019) and one at UCD (from September 16th 2019) (see TCD Postdoc and UCD Postdoc for job descriptions). **deadline for UCD postdoc extended to 5th July**

INCASE is an Environmental Protection Agency funded, transdisciplinary project, which will develop Natural Capital Accounting (NCA) systems in Ireland. By reviewing approaches and data sources, and incorporating world-leading best-practice and approaches, this project will develop ecosystem and environmental flow accounts for Irish catchments. In addition, we will develop tools for data visualisation, quality assessment and framework development. Furthermore, we will conduct economic impact assessment to determine the projected impacts of future policy change, using the agri-food sector as an exemplar. The project team, based at TCD, UCD, UL, NUIG, and IFNC, has expertise in the natural capital approach, ecology and ecosystem service valuation, economics, socio-economics and ecosystem accounting.

Please contact or for further details.


“If bees disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live”

This oft-cited misquote, usually attributed to Einstein, has dubious origins (see Jeff Ollerton’s blog), but bees are undoubtedly important for humankind.

How is it possible that insects have such a big role for us? Travelling a maximum foraging distance of 10 km, and visiting up to 50-100 flowers per day, bees contribute to maintaining ecosystems. How? Wild and managed honeybees, bumblebees, and solitary bees are considered the main pollinators! With their work, they contribute to pollination of approximately 86% of crops and nearly 80% of all wild plant species in Europe. This service has a benefit for the economy: it’s been estimated that € 153 billion of global food production would be lost if pollinating insects disappeared.

Despite the essential role they play for humans, it seems that human activities are damaging the health of our little friends. Habitat loss and intensification of land use, climate change, exposure to agrochemicals, inadequate nutrition, increased incidence of pests and pathogens, and invasion of alien species are dramatically damaging bees.

For example, it’s been calculated that, between 1947 and 2005, the loss of colonies of honeybees was 25% in central Europe and 59% in USA. The proportion of this phenomenon is such huge that it’s known as ‘Global Pollinators Crisis’ (fig 1).

irene fig 1
Fig 1 Some of the interactions between the stressors that affect the bee health and that contribute to the decline of pollinators

But all is not lost! A network of countries (14 countries to be precise, fig 2) is working hard to find a solution. It is not an easy task though, because all the stressors interact with each other and this makes it hard to understand the effective impact of each component on the bee health.

irene fig 2
Fig 2 Members of the PoshBee project at the Annual General meeting in Murcia (Spain) in January 2019. The meeting focused on the presentation of the different work packages and was a good occasion to meet the new members and understand their roles in the project.

This project is called “PoshBee”, an acronym for “Pan-european assessment, monitoring, and mitigation Of Stressors on the Health of Bees”. Difficult name for a difficult task! This huge project involves countries all around Europe in order to understand which stressors are affecting bee health. The purpose of the project is to create an international network of countries that will cooperate in order to simultaneously investigate the impact of all of these factors on a range of bee species, and develop novel tools to help to reduce risks and avoid the negative impacts of these stressors on wild and managed bees. Some of these countries are going to collect data in the field including pollen and nectar from flowers, beebread, wax and royal jelly from the hives, to look for evidence of chemical exposure and nutritional content. We will also collect adult bees that have returned from foraging to examine what chemicals they may have encountered from the wider landscape. Adult bees, and their haemolymph, will be collected and examined for signs of diseases, and we will perform inspections of the honeybees hives to look for presence of disease and pests such as Chalk Brood, European Foul Brood and Varroa mites. Samples will be sent to several labs across Europe (in Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, Poland) to be analysed and to create a pan-European dataset on exposure hazard.

The data we collect from Ireland will be combined with that of the rest of the network, involving other seven countries (Estonia, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and United Kingdom), and the results will help to develop crop management systems where pesticides can be used in a manner that lowers the risks to bees and other wildlife. Data will be collected in 16 different sites in 8 countries (half of them will be located in oil seed rape crops and the others in apple orchards). The apples represent a perennial crop, subjected to long-term management practices and the application of agrochemicals, while the oilseed rape is an annual crop so management and chemical use tends to be pulsed. We will also try to choose sites demonstrating a gradient of agricultural “intensification”, from low to high chemical and fertilizer inputs, and low to high agricultural use in the surrounding landscape.

We will use three species of bees as model species in our study: honeybees, bumble bees and solitary bees. The honeybees will be native Irish dark form Apis mellifera mellifera, the bumble bees the sub species of Bombus terrestris that occurs in Ireland and Britain, Bombus terrestris audax, and the solitary bees will be a species of orchard bee, Osmia bicornis (see Fig. 3).

irene fig 3a
Apis mellifera mellifera
irene fig 3c
Bombus terrestris audax
irene fig 3b
Osmia bicornis

Fig 3. Species of pollinator insects used in the study. Apis mellifera , Osmia bicornis, Bombus terrestris.

Floral abundance and richness will be assessed around the target sites, and landscape from the selected site analysed using GIS software. Wild and managed pollinator insects in the field margins will be monitored to give an indication of the ‘health’ of the pollinator communities occurring at each site.

All the data will be collected following common protocols.

Crucial for this job will be the contribution of the farmers and beekeepers in order to reconstruct the background of the fields, their history and their use during the past few years. Several universities and associations are involved in the project all around Europe. In Ireland, Trinity College Dublin is collaborating with FIBKA (The Federation of Irish Beekeepers Associations), and TEAGASC (Agriculture and Food Development Authority).

At the end of the study, models will be developed to assist authorities such as EFSA (European Food Safety Assessment) to assess combined threats to bees as part of risk assessment processes.

The PoshBee project is not the only project involved in safeguarding pollinators in Ireland. Other projects are analysing different aspects of bee health: two examples include the PROTECTS project that is investigating sustainable pesticide use, and the AIPP (All Ireland Pollinator Plan) that created, among other things, a network between farmers, local authorities, schools, gardeners and businesses with the aim of creating an Ireland where pollinators can survive and thrive.


Where are we now?

As you can imagine, it is very difficult to coordinate the work of many organisations and many countries, because you face two big problems. First of all, you have to be sure that the protocols are as clear and detailed as possible, since they have to be applied in the same way on a number of countries that are different in their typology of landscape, weather, number of people involved, and seasonality. The second big problem is coordinating two different ‘teams’ that have different requirements and problems to face. From one side there will be the team that has to collect the samples in the field, facing the short flowering period and the unpredictable weather conditions (that’s us!). The other team is composed by the countries responsible for the analytical work in the labs. One of the biggest strain for them is the amount of sample required: they need a big number of samples in order to conduct the analysis.

The most recent meeting of the PoshBee project aimed to face these challenges. It took place in Bologna (Italy) where CREA (Consiglio per la Ricerca in Agricoltura e l’Analisi dell’Economia Agraria) hosted all the people involved in the field work season (see Fig. 4).

irene fig 4
Fig 4. The team involved in the Work Package concerning the collection of the samples in the field. The group is composed of beekeepers, members of different organisations, researchers and PhD students.

The two-day workshop had the goal of producing the final versions of the protocols and test the procedures to be used in the sites (as well as tasting the amazing Bolognese food!) Every group that was charged with creating the protocols presented their work, receiving feedback and suggestions that have been use to compose the final version. The days were quite intense but their final result was great!

A large part of the workshop was allocated to testing and practicing the different methods that we will use. CREA made available its hives and bees for this purpose. We have to admit that putting into practice what we wrote has been more complicated than we thought! For example the evaluation of how many bees are on every frame (both sides) could seem a useless effort, but it’s very important to investigate the colony strength (see Fig. 5). We discovered we were initially not so good in evaluating the percentage in the hives, but luckily we can practise from home, using software called ColEval.

irene fig 5
Fig 5. Trying to calculate the percentage of the bees present on a frame. The frame with the grid (kept from the girl on the right could help in the counting since it subdivides the frame in 10 areas of the same size.

What about the detection of the mite that is been identified as one of the major factor responsible for colony losses worldwide: Varroa destructor? We plan to identify it on the bottom board of the hive between the debris – a hard task if your eyes are not used to picking out the tiny mites (see fig. 6).

irene fig 6
Fig 6. The arrow points an individual of Varroa destructor surrounded by debris.

The collection of nectar and haemolymph from bees were the things that created most difficulties for most of us novices! The nectar it has to be collected from the gut of the bees and it will be used in order to detect pesticides residues and the typology of plants they use to feed. In the haemolymph, the French team is looking for molecules that signal stress.

Let’s briefly describe these methods to let everybody know the huge effort people are willing to do in order to save our little stripy friends. Collecting nectar from the bee’s gut could also be described as ‘let the bee throw up in an Eppendorf squeezing its abdomen, avoiding killing it and being stung’. Concerning haemolymph collection, you have to isolate the head of the bee in a tube and collect the liquid with a micro-capillary tube between the second and the third tergites (see Fig. 7).

irene fig 7
Fig 7. Extraction of haemolymph from a female individual of Apis mellifera. The bee’s movement is prevented blocking the anterior part of the bee’s body in a plastic tube. The operator has to collect the haemolymph with a capillary tube that has to be located between the 2nd and the 3rd tergites of the abdomen. The lymph will draw up the tube because of the capillary force, and then has to be pumped into an Eppendorf – the operator has to blow inside the opposite side of the tube to make this happen.

The difficulties don’t stop here. Counting insects along a transect in order to monitor their biodiversity or identifying the plants in 1x1m square for assessing the forage resources at the sites, could be tricky as well. For example, what we consider a flower could be misunderstood by different teams of fieldworkers: if we think about one daisy, we are actually thinking about hundreds of little flowers that are grouped together on a capitulum (see Fig. 8 ).

irene fig 8
Fig. 8 The Bellis perennis flower is an example of what sometimes the thing we consider a flower is otherwise a group of different small flowers.

These are only few examples of all the analysis that we are going to do in the field. I’m not going to describe them in the details because there are about 40 protocols (it’s going to be a hard season of work, but someone has to do that)! Thus if you want keeping updated on our adventures, visit the PoshBee website or follow the Twitter account @poshbee_eu.

So hang in there bees, we are starting working for you! Be(e)tter late than never!


About the Author:

Irene Bottero is a PhD student working with Prof Jane Stout and Dr Simon Hodge in Botany, School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin. Follow her on Twitter @irene_bottero.

The PoshBee project receives funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 773921.

Post-doctoral research assistants wanted for INCASE project

We are seeking two postdoctoral researchers to join the INCASE (Irish Natural Capital Accounting for Sustainable Environments) team, one based at TCD (from May 1st 2019) and one at UCD (from September 16th 2019) (see TCD Postdoc and UCD Postdoc for job descriptions).

INCASE is an Environmental Protection Agency funded, transdisciplinary project, which will develop Natural Capital Accounting (NCA) systems in Ireland. By reviewing approaches and data sources, and incorporating world-leading best-practice and approaches, this project will develop ecosystem and environmental flow accounts for Irish catchments. In addition, we will develop tools for data visualisation, quality assessment and framework development. Furthermore, we will conduct economic impact assessment to determine the projected impacts of future policy change, using the agri-food sector as an exemplar. The project team, based at TCD, UCD, UL, NUIG, and IFNC, has expertise in the natural capital approach, ecology and ecosystem service valuation, economics, socio-economics and ecosystem accounting.

Please contact or for further details.

A new horizon for nature


This week saw the first National Biodiversity Conference in Ireland at Dublin Castle – an incredible joint effort between the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Irish Forum on Natural Capital to engage people in nature. The conference aimed to get all relevant parties in the room to progress biodiversity conservation and restoration in Ireland.

Delegates at Dublin Castle for the New Horizons for Nature conference

The conference opened with a powerful short film by Crossing the Line Productions “This is Ireland” which set the tone for a fantastic two days.

The conference both celebrated nature, and recognised the challenges we face through its destruction. It also addressed practical mechanisms for its protection and restoration, bringing together diverse parties including government, NGOs, schools, corporates, academics, the media, and everyone in between. It was an empowering and supporting atmosphere.

The three themes of the conference were:

  1. Engagement
  2. Planning for the Future
  3. Investing in Nature
Wonderful artwork capturing the three themes of the conference by @EimearMcNally

On the first morning, the conference was opened by Minister Josepha Madigan TD (Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht). Then followed keynote addresses on each of the three conference themes from Ella McSweeney (Journalist) and Prof John Fitzgerald (Climate Change Advisory Council)​, and myself (my speech is here) to set the scene.

One great thing about the meeting was the inclusivity – nature underpins everything, and so it was fitting that a diverse range of interest groups, practicioners and specialists were on board. This was exemplified in the Irish Wildlife Trust‘s “Together for Biodiversity” awards (sponsored by Dublin Port Company), which celebrated biodiversity action by small and large community groups, biodiversity champions, schools, farms and businesses. Applications were assessed on their biodiversity impacts, the work done, and their impact on communities, and were overall of a very high standard – there is a LOT being done for biodiversity out there.

award winners
Together for Biodiversity Award winners – Congratulations to all!

Parallel sessions were live-streamed for people who couldn’t or didn’t want to get to Dublin Castle for the main event, and who shared their thoughts via the #biodcon19 via Twitter (resulting in this hashtag trending for most of the two days).

At lunchtime, Minister Josepha Madigan TD hosted a high-level lunch, at which two other TDs (Richard Bruton – DCCAE, and Andrew Doyle – DAFM), along with other state bodies, businesses and stakeholders discussed their commitments for nature, which were announced at the end of day 2 as “seeds for nature“.

Minister Madigan’s high-level lunch attendees

At the end of day 1, a panel discussed #1thing4nature – what is the one thing you would do to help biodiversity? This question was asked prior to the conference via social media by Yvonne Buckley and generated a lively debate among panelists on the day.

IFNC Director, Micheál Ó Cinnéide summed up the first day’s lessons learned in 7 L’s:

  1. Listen harder – to each other, and to nature.
  2. Learn – learn by doing.
  3. Link – networks linking people together. Linking climate and water. Linking economy and nature, culture and conservation.
  4. Lead – need government to lead. We have our own youth leaders, including  James Dunne. We need to take responsibility and demonstrate leadership. We in this room need to lead.
  5. Local – local solutions. Tackle politicians on the doorstep.
  6. Language – some of concepts of natural capital concept can be abstract, academic and remote. Make concepts simpler – benefits and co-benefits can be articulated to people.
  7. Love – we love coasts, birds, the land.. the bond is still there and strong.
Jane Stout (IFNC) and Josepha Madigan TD (DCHG) at the opening of the conference

On day 2, Katherine Licken (Secretary General, Dept. Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht) opened proceedings in a positive, supportive manner, reminding us that the people of Ireland do care about nature, but that we still have much more to be done. She emphasised the need to protect, enhance and celebrate nature. She committed to working with other departments in government on related topics of climate change and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, to developing a communications strategy to “love nature”, and to do do everything her Department can to use the impetus from this conference to provide new horizons for nature.

We were then very fortunate to hear from three incredible keynote speakers:

First was Inger Anderson, Director General of the IUCN, and who on the eve of her talk was confirmed as the new head of the United Nations Environment Programme, making her perhaps the most important person in the world in terms of environmental issues. She gave an excellent, impassioned speech (see here), highlighting the importance of biodiversity for our food, health, jobs and economies, the stability of society, and our identity. She also spoke about the resilience of nature – how it can bounce back if we give it a chance to. She outlined what needed to be done, and the urgency with which we must do it. Finally, she reminded us that if we “get biodiversity right”, then we can secure food and water security, climate mitigation and adaptation, ensuring indigenous people’s rights, sustainable cities and communities, and ultimately world peace. She was passionate and inspiring – a delight to listen to.

Then we heard from Humberto Delgado Rosa (Director of Natural Capital at DG Environment in the European Commission)​, who was also Secretary of State for Environment in Portugal. He opened by saying nature needs new horizons, and spoke about the post 2020 EU strategies. He reminded us that there aren’t three pillars of sustainability, there are three layers: the environment/biosphere/nature is our life support system, without it, we can’t support the upper two layers of society and economy. He also reminded us that climate and ecology are two sides of the same coin – they are not separate issues and solutions for one, can benefit the other. With regards to the value of nature, he emphasised that there are both intrinsic and instrumental values associated with nature, and that the latter allow us to defend it – to show that natural capital is valuable to people. He said we should get a new deal for nature at the next COP in China in 2020. The 2050 vision of living in harmony with nature should not be changed, but we should think about where we want to be in 2030, aligning our targets with the Sustainable Development agenda. That these targets need to be SMART i.e. measurable, reportable and verifiable. He also spoke of the importance of getting the national implementation of the revised CAP right, particularly with regards to the design of Eco-Schemes for Ireland, which should be results-based.

Finally, President Michael D. Higgins gave a powerful address emphasising that the current economic model is flawed – we need to connect ecology, economics and ethics. He also told us to open our minds, to talk to each other and to listen to each other. To not refer to people as “experts” but as “specialists”, to make them more accessible.  He praised the conference organisers for engaging people across sectors, for moving out of our silos. He said we needed to work in an integrated way and that we need more resources to protect nature, because it underpins everything. He said our progress would be tested by the skills on the ground – we need the necessary humility of scholarship delivered into action, so that farmers can say with confidence that “I am doing this not because I have been told to, but because it is the right thing to do”. And for them to do it based on ancient wisdom as well as new information from specialists.   He also praised the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan and said he was going implement this at the Aras. He said new dialogue was necessary – he empowered the people in the room – we know, we have the actions and we can teach others. He also said that good ideas can be killed by administration (don’t we all just know that!). His speech ran well over the allocated time slot, but was well worth it, and received a standing ovation from the audience.

Day 2 Plenary speakers and conference organisers. From L-R: Niall Ó Donnchú (DCHG), Hannah Hamilton (IFNC), Jane Stout (TCD/IFNC), Katherine Licken (DCHG), President Higgins, Inger Anderson (IUCN), Humberto Delgado Rosa (EC)​, Deirdre Lynn (NPWS), Ciaran O’Keefe (NPWS)

Michael Ewing (Head of Irish Environmental Pillar), and Tara Shine (Change By Degrees), patiently waited until the closing plenary session to give their impassioned presentations on the national perspective and “Our new horizons: a future perspective”.

Finally, a closing panel comprising Ella McSweeny, Andrew Jackson (UCD), Jane Stout (TCD), John O’Neill (DCCAE) and Ciaran O’Keefe (NPWS), chaired by Eugenie Regan (UNEP-WCMC), gave their sum up of the meeting, and their own personal #1thing4nature. Mine was to continue to contribute to providing the ecological evidence base, but also to work out of my comfort zone – work with other sectors and other disciplines to value, protect and restore nature. Yvonne Buckley then summed up her thoughts from the conference, and ended with a plea for the implementation of the National Biodiversity Action Plan.

The “seeds for nature” were announced at the end of the conference, before the audience once again rose to their feet with a standing ovation for conference organisers, Hannah Hamilton (IFNC) and Deirdre Lynn (NPWS). Ciaran O’Keefe closed the meeting on an upbeat note and urged us to go on, go on, go on…

Hannah and Dee

The event attracted substantial media coverage, with several articles in the Irish Times, including:

Undervaluing of nature has lead to its destruction, conference told

Forty actions agreed to address Ireland’s biodiversity Crisis

Humans cannot keep destroying nature and species Higgins says

Blaming farmers for risks to Irish species unhelpful, says environmentalist

and via RTE:!rii=b9%5F21514289%5F48%5F%5F



About the Author 

Jane Stout is a Professor in Botany and leads the Plant-Animal Interactions research group. She’s based in the Botany Discipline in the School of Natural Sciences at Trinity College Dublin. She is Director of the Irish Forum on Natural Capital, and Deputy Chair of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan Steering Group. Find out more about her research here:

Website | Jane Stout, TCD
Twitter | @JaneCStout
ResearchGate | Profile
LinkedIn | Profile
Google Scholar | Profile

Photo credits:

A bee-themed Valentine’s Day

In response to a tweet from our very own Dean of Research this morning…


Here’s my bee/research-themed valentine’s message…


Roses are red

Violets are blue

They attract bees

The colour’s a clue


The bees transfer pollen,

Flies do this too,

Makes strawberries and chocolate

So, insects, thank you


But insects are threatened

By what humans do

So on V-day this year

It’s over to you…


Grow native flowers

(They need quite a few)

To feed their babies

And to do what they do


Ditch the bug spray

Protect habitats too

Because we need insects

And insects need you