PhD studentship available: How sustainable is the bioeconomy? A natural capital approach.

We are seeking applicants with Bachelors/Masters degree (2.1 or higher) in natural/environmental science, natural resource management, or similar, preferably with knowledge and experience in ecosystem services, natural capital, bioeconomy, and/or life cycle analysis to do a PhD on “Integrating natural capital into Bioeconomic industrial applications”.

A studentship, which includes a €18,000 stipend, plus €5,500 contribution to fees per annum, is available for 4 years from 1st March 2019.

The PhD student will be registered in Trinity College Dublin, supervised by Prof Jane Stout (TCD) and Prof Cathal O’Donoghue (NUIG), and work as part of the SFI-funded BEACON-Bioeconomy research centre, with access to the support of BEACON infrastructure.


To apply: please send letter of application, outlining suitability for the post, and a CV with the names and email addresses of 2 referees, to Jane Stout before 11th January 2019.

Project description: “Natural capital” comprises the world’s stock of natural resources, including all living and non-living components and associated bio-physio-chemical processes, from which flow ecosystem goods and services which have benefits and value to human society (see Natural capital is essential for a sustainable bioeconomy – it can be distinguished from physical capital (e.g. the factory that processes raw materials), social capital (e.g. employees harvesting and processing materials), and financial capital (e.g. the repayments on the operational costs). All types of capital are needed and an imbalance will reduce the capacity of the bioeconomy to function and threaten its long-term sustainability.

Natural capital stocks have been depleted globally, and although it is not about protecting the environment, the bioeconomy strategy could represent an opportunity to stop the loss of natural capital and the services that flow from it. However, integrating the natural capital approach into biobased industrial applications is challenging. One problem is in specifying and assigning “value” to natural capital in order to incorporate goods and services from nature into economic business models; another is making knowledge, tools and approaches accessible; and a third is reforming practices to align short-term private objectives with long-term public/societal ones.

This project will deliver a generic natural capital approach to developing bioeconomic activities in Ireland. This will involve determining impacts and dependencies (reliance on and outputs to) on natural capital across spatio-temporal scales (from local, regional, national to global; from cradle to cradle) for case-study applications, and developing general product rules.

Objective: Deliver generic and specific frameworks for integrating natural capital, tested on Technical Projects, applicable across industries. Demonstrate how natural capital accounting could underpin bioeconomy business case development and natural capital management.

Methodological approach: Using an LCA approach and incorporating economic valuations, costs and benefits of alternative pathways can be determined. The project will further identify pressure points at which intervention could minimise potentially adverse impacts on natural capital.


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The Future of Sustainable Pest Management workshop

On October 5 2018, the Plant-Animal Interactions Research Group at Trinity College Dublin hosted a one-day workshop entitled “The Future of Sustainable Pest Management.” The attendees of this workshop came from a wide variety of institutions around Ireland, including UCD, DCU, Teagasc, DAFM, and of course Trinity itself. There were three talks given in the Botany Lecture Theatre, and then a final seminar open to everyone held in the Ecology, Evolution, and the Environment Seminar Series in the Museum Building.

sustainable pesticide workshop 05.10.18

The main objectives of the workshop were:

  1. To discuss the problems and potential of current and future methods of pest control in agricultural systems.
  2. To develop new research networks and ties.
  3. To compare pest control methods and policies within Ireland and abroad.

To this end, the workshop was a resounding success! I personally learned so much from each of the talks, and felt they complemented one another perfectly. I am so grateful to the speakers and participants who took the time to come to this workshop. And I was encouraged to see participants chatting to one another about potential collaborations.


Talk Overviews:

The first speaker, Aidan Moody, started the day by discussing the careful ways in which the EU and Ireland ensure that chemicals are safe to be released to the market. He also welcomed anyone to come visit Teagasc to learn more. Mr. Moody’s talk is available here.

The second speaker, Ronan Byrne, then gave a thorough overview of the mechanisms behind the evolution of herbicide resistance in weed species, with a particular focus on herbicide resistant weeds in Ireland. Mr. Byrne’s talk is available here.

The third speaker, Brian Murphy, gave a talk on new ideas regarding fungal endophytes in plants, and how these can help to promote crop yield without using chemical applications. Dr Murphy’s talk is available here.

We then had lunch at the Trinity Dining Hall so that participants could mingle, discuss ideas, and develop new research networks.

We had an international speaker, who was also speaking in the Ecology, Evolution, and the Environment seminar series, Prof. David Mortensen. Prof. Mortensen gave the last talk of the day on the potential to influence policy on herbicide usage and change behaviour in agriculture. Prof. Mortensen’s talk is available here.

Finally, students had an opportunity to chat more to the seminar speakers at the end of the day as we met up at the Bank.

Graduate students Irene Bottero and Elena Zioga (from Jane Stout’s lab) wrote a complete summary of the workshop, which is available here.


Speaker Bios:

Aidan Moody is the Head of the Pesticides Division at the Senior Inspector Level for the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, for Ireland. He gave a talk on EU policies regarding the approval of chemicals for use in agriculture, including the stringent requirements the producer must meet to release a new chemical.


Ronan Byrne is a PhD candidate at the University of Sheffield, currently working with Teagasc at Oak Park, in Co. Carlow. He is a Walsh Fellow working on herbicide resistance in grass weeds here in Ireland, and specialises in molecular biology, genomics, bioinformations, and molecular evolution.–innovation/research-impact-highlights/grass-weed-control-in-irish/


Brian Murphy is a research fellow funded by Enterprise Ireland at TCD with a Masters level Special Purpose Certificate in academic practice. He has a high commendation as a registered scientist with the Science Council. He recently won the award for best new technology emerging from 3rd level with Trevor Hodkinson for e-Seed, an agritech company.


Dave Mortensen, previously head of the Ecology program at Penn State University, was named a Distinguished Professor by that university this year. He also recently received an oustanding teacher/mentor award, which is distributed exclusively by the students. He is now at the University of New Hamphsire, where he is the chair of Agriculture, Nutrition, and Food Systems. This department includes 35 faculty who work on the spectrum from sustainable food production through to human health. The thread that holds Prof. Mortensen’s work together over teh years is fundamental and applied science centered on ecosystem service provisioning and how that is influenced by the structure of the landscape.



Special Thanks:

Special thanks to everyone who made this workshop possible; Jane Stout, Matthew Saunders, Pepijn Luijckx, Siobhan McNamee, Mandy Lockhart, Olive Keegan, Suzanne Richmond, Cian White, and Sandra Kavanagh. Funding from TCD’s Visiting Professorships and Fellowships Benefaction Fund and Marie Curie Individual Fellowship (FOMN 705287).

By Laura Russo, Marie Skłodowska Curie Postdoctoral Research Fellow.

The Bombus lucorum complex – a study across urban and rural habitats

During summer 2018, Trinity College Dublin undergraduate student, Maeve McCann, carried out a research project using molecular methods to identify individual bumble bees belonging to the Bombus lucorum complex. She wrote a blog about her fieldwork back in July, and now she has completed her project. Here’s what she found…


Bumble bees are commercially and ecologically important pollinators. They are declining in Ireland due to climate change, land use change and habitat loss. To inform effective conservation it is vital that species distribution and abundance is known. Four of the most common bumble bees in Ireland, belonging to the Bombus lucorum cryptic complex, require molecular identification through PCR/RFLP digest to distinguish individual species, as morphological characteristics are shared in a cryptic manner.

Taxonomy of the Bombus sensu stricto subgenus in Ireland. The species highlighted in green are species of bumble bee present in Ireland that are indistinguishable using normal morphological identification methods. Bombus terrestris queens are distinguishable by their buff tail, however workers usually have the colour banding pattern of the lucorum complex, and so are considered part of cryptic complex. Any ambiguous records for these 4 species are referred to Bombus lucorum agg (aggregate).

Our study used molecular techniques to identify bees from the urban and rural settings of Dublin city and County Fermanagh respectively.

Dublin city, situated on the eastern seaboard of Ireland, is shaded blue. County Fermanagh, part of Northern Ireland, in the north-west of Ireland is shaded green.

We were able to identify a total of 98 individuals, which revealed a unique species composition in each region. In Dublin, individuals were identified as Bombus cryptarum (4.2%), Bombus lucorum (8.3%) and Bombus terrestris (87.5%); and in Fermanagh, Bombus cryptarum (46%), Bombus lucorum (20%) and Bombus terrestris (34%).

A Bombus cryptarum worker caught at Killykeegan Nature Reserve in Co. Fermanagh. Its banding pattern of a yellow band on the thorax and abdomen and a white tail is shared by members of the Bombus sensu stricto subgenus.
Species composition by region. The Dublin pie chart corresponds to the following percentages for each species: B. cryptarum (blue) = 4.2%, B. lucorum (orange)= 8.3% and B. terrestris (grey)= 87.5%. The Fermanagh pie chart shows species composition of: B. cryptarum (blue) = 46%, B. lucorum (orange) =20% and B. terrestris (grey) =34%.

No Bombus magnus individuals were found.


This research project has shown differentiation in the species composition of the B. lucorum complex across a rural and urban setting. The species present varies between each region, but pooled regional data are mostly representative of each site within the region. While the findings show clear regional differences, this difference in species composition could indicate that these species are variable with regard to their preference for a rural or urban environment. However, the extent to which the B. lucorum complex reliably differentiates across all of Ireland can only be assessed by an all-Ireland study controlled for these rural and urban differences. As it stands, B. cryptarum and B. magnus are data deficient, however it could be noted that much of the data on B. lucorum is inconclusive as it too is also deficient on high quality (molecular) identifications.  More investigation is required to understand the ecology of each species uniquely and thus inform conservation strategies.

Download the full report here.

Maeve McCann is an undergraduate Science student at Trinity College Dublin, and her project was supported by the C.B. Dennis British Beekeepers’ Research Trust.



SCAPE 2018: Pollination Ecologists on tour in Ireland

One of the (possibly the) best of the pollination ecology conferences is SCAPE. This meeting has been held annually since 1987, and has rotated around the four Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. In 2018, for the first time, this meeting was held outside Scandinavia, when Prof Jane Stout (TCD) and Dr Dara Stanley (UCD) hosted the meeting in the Republic of Ireland and welcomed 87 pollination ecologists from around the world. Delegates came from 14 different European countries, and further afield (USA, Canada, Brazil, South Africa and Zambia).

SCAPE delegates enjoying the Irish countryside in County Wicklow

The focus of the SCAPE meeting is on pollination ecology, wild and crop plant pollination, plant-pollinator interactions, pollinator conservation, plant reproduction, pollinator behaviour and diversity, plant evolution, and related subjects. Delegates enjoyed 50 oral presentations, 20 poster presentations and two excellent keynote speakers (Dr Elli Leadbeater and Prof Steve Johnson) (see programme here).

One of the highlights of the SCAPE meetings is the friendly, informal atmosphere, which integrates top professors with Early Career Researchers (including MSc and PhD students, early postdoctoral researchers). This enables ECRs to not only present their work, but to have it reviewed and critiqued in a supportive way. It also allows and encourages connections to be made, networking and informal mentoring of ECRs. This year, thanks to SFI sponsorship, student prizes were awarded to:

  • Best Oral Presentation: Stephanie Maher, Anglia Ruskin University, UK
  • Best Poster Presentation: Margareta Kluth, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Dusseldorf, Germany
  • Best Flash Presentation: Cian White, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

Congratulations to all, particularly our own Cian White, from the TCD Plant-Animal Interactions Research Group.

The conference was held at the the beautiful Avon Ri Lakeshore Resort, Co. Wicklow, Ireland. And we maintained the Scandinavian feel with a very Irish sauna, and augmented it with a very enjoyable ceili (see photos by Laura Russo here).

Bosca Beatha, the Mobile sauna

Thanks to all the delegates and to the venue for making this a very successful SCAPE meeting. Looking forward to SCAPE 2019 in Lund, Sweden!



New PhD students bring Italian and Greek flavour to research group

We are delighted to welcome two new PhD students to the Plant-Animal Interactions Research Group at Trinity College Dublin this semester: Elena Zioga and Irene Bottero. Both are working on how agricultural pesticides influence plants and pollinators: Elena on the national DAFM-funded PROTECTS project and Irene on the EU-funded PoshBee project.


At their first lab group meetings, Irene and Elena treated us to a honey tasting session and Greek herbal infusion teas

Elena has a B.Sc. (Hons) in Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Environment, and an M.Sc. in Conservation of Biodiversity and Sustainable Exploitation of Native Plants, both from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece). Her primary interests are botany, apidology, pollination ecology, chemistry of natural products, and environmental chemistry. She is currently undertaking her PhD under the supervision of Prof. Jane Stout (Department of Botany, Trinity College Dublin) and Prof. Blanaid White (Department of Chemical Sciences, Dublin City University) and she is part of the plant-pollinator interactions group at Trinity College. In her PhD project, Elena is evaluating the potential for pesticide contamination of floral resources as a result of translocation from soil. This is a multidisciplinary project and part of the PROTECTS (Protecting Terrestrial Ecosystems Through Sustainable Pesticide Use) programme, funded by the Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Irene has a B.Sc. (HONS) in Natural Sciences and a M. Sc. in Evolution of Animal and Human Behaviour from the University of Turin. In the past she worked for an European project, in order to restore a damaged area of Toce River in Pieve Vergonte (VB, Italy). Her main interests are the ecosystem services, the environment and the conservation of biodiversity and landscape. She is currently undertaking her PhD under the primary supervision of Prof. Jane Stout at TCD, with Prof. Chris Topping (Aarhus, Denmark) and Dr. Cecilia Costa (CREA,Italy). Her PhD is part of the European PoshBee project (, which aims to understand the impact of several stressors (i.e. nutrition, agrochemicals, pathogens) on bee health. The collected data will be correlated with the landscape data from both Ireland and Italy, in order to create a risk assessment and to reduce the negative impact of these stressors on wildlife, pollinators and environment.

Follow Elena @ZioElena and Irene @irene_bottero on Twitter to keep up with their progress.

research group

The Plant-Animal Interactions research group (13 Sept 2018): Back row (L-R) Elena Zioga, James Murphy, Simon Hodge, Conor Owens; front row (L-R) Irene Bottero, Jane Stout, Laura Russo, Maeve McCann, Sarah Gable, Cian White