The QMEE CDT Project proposal database

Welcome to the QMEE CDT Project proposal database. This is a live list of projects proposals put forward by PIs across the CDT partner institutions

PIs/Supervisors will continue to add projects to this list over the next few months, so do keep checking back! You can search the projects using the box below: simply enter some text and press Search to do a text search across all the database fields. If you want to search more finely, the search tool also allows you to search on particular details of the project descriptions: you will see these finer search options appear if you click on the search box.

Click on the view button next to a project to get the full proposal description. If you want to download project details, either for all projects, or for a subset you have searched for, then click on the 'Download details' button.

To find a particular PI's email or look up other PI details, use the menu at the top of this page (PIs tab).

Seed natural enemies and tropical forest diversity
The role of natural enemies in structuring and maintaining plant diversity in species-rich tropical forests is being increasingly recognised. To date, research has focused almost exclusively on enemies attacking seeds after dispersal from the mother plant, seedlings, and larger plants (e.g. 1, 2, 3). Recent, high-profile (4) work has shown that this post-dispersal predation provides mechanism for the hyperdiversity of tropical forests. The potential role of pre-dispersal seed enemies, i.e. enemies attacking seeds prior to seed dispersal, has been almost completely ignored (5). One potentially important group of pre-dispersal seed enemies are the internally-feeding insect seed predators (typically Coleoptera, Lepidoptera) that feed on seeds in the canopy, killing them in the process. Our work on Barro Colorado Island in Panama shows that the majority of tree species are attacked by pre-dispersal seed predators. We also know that these enemies are highly host-specific, with only 20% of insect seed predator species feeding on more than one host plant species. This makes these insects an interesting and relevant group for further study. For example, if they tend to kill a large proportion of seeds where their host is abundant, they have the potential to promote the coexistence of plant species at the community level (6, 7). The aim of this project is to assess the impacts of pre-dispersal insect seed predators on individual plant species and at the wider plant community level. More specifically, the student will be able to 1) investigate the fitness consequences of pre-dispersal insect seed predation for individual trees; 2) assess spatial, temporal, and community-level variation in rates of enemy-inflicted pre-dispersal seed mortality, and 3) the potential implications of observed patterns on species coexistence at the plant community level. The project will also 4) assess the link between observed high (>50%) levels of premature fruit abscission and pre-dispersal enemy attack. The student will have access to data sets collected as part of previous research conducted by one of the supervisors and her collaborators, including information on community-level patterns of attack by insect seed predators across ~500 plant species and >30 years of seed rain data for hundreds of plant species on Barro Colorado Island. The student will receive training in statistical analysis of these data sets and modelling to address the role of pre-dispersal seed mortality on population and community dynamics. There will also be possibilities for field-based research (observational studies, experiments) on individual plant species on Barro Colorado Island. The project has the potential to yield novel insights into a poorly studied group of plant enemies. The research theme is particularly topical given recent concerns about declining insect populations in tropical forests (8), and more widely. References 1. Comita, L. S. et al. (2014) J. Ecol. 102: 845-856. 2. Bagchi, R. et al. (2014) Nature 506: 85-88. 3. Forrister, D. L. et al. (2019) Science 363: 1213-1216. 4. Levi, T. et al. (2019) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 116: 581-586. 5. Gripenberg, S. (2018) Biotropica 50: 839-845. 6. Janzen, D. H. (1970) Am. Nat. 104: 501-528. 7. Connell, J. H. (1971) In: Den Boer, P. J. & Gradwell, G. R. (eds) Dynamics of Populations. 8. Lister, B. C. & Garcia, A. (2018). Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 115, E10397–E10406.
Sofia Gripenberg
James Bullock
Tom Oliver, University of Reading
Quantitative data analysis, Ecological observations / data collection
James Bullock
The student will analyse data on community-level patterns of seed predator attack and spatially and temporally referenced data on seed rain in a diverse tropical plant community and use modelling studies to assess the consequences of observed patterns on population and community dynamics. There will also be opportunities for designing and implementing field-based studies on individual species.
The data allow for detailed analyses of spatial and temporal patterns of fruit abscission within individual species as well as community-level analyses (e.g. predictive modelling to assess the role of plant traits and phylogeny). The models on population and community dynamics can – unusually in the context of a diverse tropical forest community – be parameterised using real data.
The project has strong links to modern coexistence theory: A key component of the project is to investigate the role of enemy-inflicted seed mortality in promoting coexistence of plant species in species-rich tropical forest communities.
The project has the potential to advance our understanding of the ecology of tropical forest plants by shedding light on the role of pre-dispersal seed enemies. Some aspects of the work are also relevant in the context of commercial fruit production, where pests attacking developing fruit can destroy a substantial proportion of the fruit crop.
The proposed project is highly novel by focusing on plant mortality at the very earliest stages in the plant life cycle. If the results suggest that enemy-inflicted pre-dispersal seed mortality is an important process, this could have a major impact on our understanding of how tropical forests work.
The student will work on a project at the interface of plant and insect ecology using computer- and field-based research techniques. Although advertised as an ecological project, the research theme offers opportunities for sub-projects focusing on evolutionary aspects of plant-enemy interactions and/or premature fruit abscission.
Community ecology, Population ecology
The student will receive training in managing large data bases, statistical techniques such as mixed effects modelling, population and community modelling, experimental design, and field-based botanical and entomological research techniques.
The student will primarily be placed at the University of Reading. He/she will also regularly visit CEH (Wallingford) where one of the supervisors is based. During potential field work, he/she will be affiliated with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.
2019-05-21 13:40:14