Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Category: Standard Studentships

Does plant nutrition influence pollination?

Project No. 2402


Primary Supervisor

Dr Sarah Arnold – NIAB East Malling


Dr Elizabeth Nicholls – University of Sussex

Dr Eleftheria Stavridou – NIAB East Malling


Limitations to productivity in fruit crops can include nutrient availability, and the effectiveness of insect pollination.

However, how these factors interact is not fully understood. Plant nutrition affects the number of flowers produced (Lieten, 2000) and may also affect floral traits such as volatile intensity/composition, nectar production/composition (Shuel, 1955) and pollen nutritional quality (Lau & Stephenson 1993). Given that these factors influence both the detectability of a flower, and the reward provided to the visitor (e.g. Arnold et al. 2021), they have considerable potential to alter an insect’s flower visitation choices, and thereby the provision of pollination to flowering crops. This can have implications for crop yield, quality and longevity, and may inform growers decisions regarding if or when to introduce supplementary pollination from managed pollinators such as honeybees or bumblebees, which can be more costly and less sustainable than relying on pollination from wild insects.

This project will involve growing flowering crop plants under different nutritional regimes (varying the timing of application and the nutrient composition) and explore the consequences for pollination, after controlling for flower production. The student will have the option to develop the project in different directions depending on their interests, including exploring how the plant nutrient regime influences floral characteristics (size, colour, odour) and/or floral rewards (pollen and nectar composition/nutritional quality), and what this means for the flower-visitation decisions made by different groups of pollinators (i.e. social bees, solitary bees, hoverflies).

The project has the potential to provide the student with training in a range of techniques, including the use of controlled growing environments, plant physiology measurements, insect behavioural bioassays, chemical ecology (entrainment, GC-MS), and nectar/pollen compositional analysis, potentially across multiple plant and insect pollinator species. This project could thus appeal to someone from a plant physiology, analytical/organic chemistry or insect behaviour background, particularly those with an interest in developing inter-disciplinary skills in the other subject areas.