Wednesday 23 October 2019

BSBI Plant Study Grant funds sedge research

Carex salina
Image: J. Clayton/ Edge Hill University
Earlier this year we brought you Jenn’s account of how a BSBI Science & Research (SRC) Grant helped her fund her research into saltmarsh sedge. 

BSBI provides three different grants to support botanists
  • our Training Grants enable botanists at all skill levels to undertake short training courses, such as those listed on this page
  • SRC grants are aimed more at academics, PhD and MSc students carrying out research to further our understanding of the British and Irish flora; 
  • and in between we offer Plant Study Grants aimed at covering subsistence, consumables and a contribution towards course fees for undergraduates and post-graduates. 
Carex subspathacea (on left); C. salina (centre)
and C. nigra (on right), all found growing
at Kvalsundet, 
Image: J. Clayton/ Edge Hill University
The selection processes are rigorous, standards are extremely high and competition is fierce – this year, for example, we received eleven applications for SRC grants and only two applicants were successful. 

But applying for one grant doesn’t necessarily preclude anyone from applying for another and very occasionally the same person is awarded more than one grant. Jenn is in that (admittedly very small) category.

Over to Jenn: 

“In May 2019, a SRC Grant from the BSBI funded my MRes fieldwork across the Western Scottish coast (which you can read about here!) so I could investigate the inter- and intra-specific levels of genetic variation within Carex salina (Saltmarsh Sedge), a new UK coloniser. 

C. vacillans population growing at
J. Clayton/ Edge Hill University
BSBI has also helped to fund further fieldwork in Tromsø, Norway in July 2019 which C. salina is native to; this collection allowed the Scottish data to be put in a wider context against a long established population.

Surveying in Norway was carried out across a couple of days. Tromsø is located North of the Arctic circle, however due to the time of year the weather was fairly temperate and dry, allowing us to survey easily. Due to this species also being well established in Norway, locating the species was fairly easy despite the occurrence of morphologically similar species such as C. nigra and C. subspathacea.

C. salina site at Sandvika, Tromsø
Image: J. Clayton/ Edge Hill University
Using Norway’s Species Map Service, populations were located easily and were situated geographically closer than the Scottish populations were; Tromsø is a small island so the two closest coasts of the adjacent islands were mainly surveyed. I also took this opportunity to collect some closely related species, such as its parental species C. subspathacea and the hybrid C. vacillans. The other parental species, C. paleacea was also surveyed for, however it is more prominent in Southern Norway and sadly I couldn’t locate any.

Saltmarsh site at Kvalsundet, Tromsø
Image: J. Clayton/ Edge Hill University 
In total, 144 individuals were collected from seven sites. In comparison to the Scottish salt marshes, which were dominated by Glaux maritima (Sea Milkwort), Plantago maritima (Sea Plantain), and Armeria maritima (Sea Thrift), the most commonly noted species of the Tromsø salt marshes were Juncus gerardii (Saltmarsh Rush), Puccinellia maritima (Saltmarsh Grass), Triglochin maritima (Sea Arrow Grass), Plantago maritima (Sea Plantain), and Empetrum nigrum (Crowberry).

The opportunity to survey in a location like the Northern Arctic Circle of Norway is one that does not come around very often. Norway is a somewhat expensive country, and the location meant catching two flights plus the expense of hiring a hire car to access sites, meaning it can be difficult to obtain the financial means to support field work like this.

Map detailing all the survey sites
involved in the project
Image: J. Clayton/ Edge Hill University
Thankfully however, some organisations see the implications of this type of research and very graciously help fund this kind of fieldwork. I was very luck in that two organisations chose to help fund this research, the first being the Botanical Research Grant (BRG) and the second BSBI’s Plant Study Grant.

The BRG grant went towards funding Norwegian fieldwork. BSBI’s Plant Study Grant also contributed, in that it helped support my living expenses both in and outside of Norway. More notably though, this grant helped cover the third payment of my registration fees at a time when I’d been out of work for eight months, my savings almost depleted, and other successful grants spent up on fieldwork.

Because of the BSBI grant I didn’t have to pursue part-time employment (in which my full-time project would have suffered) and my place as a research student was financially secured, meaning that no money related barriers would hinder the completion of this research, and thankfully none did! 

Saltmarsh site at Snarbybukta, Tromsø
Image: J. Clayton/ Edge Hill University
So, what did we find?

Findings from this study reveal that the intra population spread of C. salina populations in Scotland, although clonality is evident, does appear to be facilitated by sexual reproduction. Scottish populations Morvich, Strontian, Loch Sunart and Loch Long share genes amongst the populations, whereas the Bettyhill and Loch Nevis populations are genetically distinct from the others. 

Loch Nevis was also the only site surveyed which presented no clonal reproduction across the sampled individuals, indicating this is a sexually reproducing population. Climate, latitude, and clonal age have all been attributed to this observed sexual reproduction.

Saltmarsh site at Vagnes, Tromsø
Image: J. Clayton/ Edge Hill University
In contrast, the Norwegian sites are all clonal populations. A high incidence of clonal reproduction in arctic salt marsh species such as C. salina is unsurprising however due to the harsh nature of these environments in which an increased clonality rate and features such as an extensive rhizome networks are an important adaptation.

The mixed reproductive methods and genetic variation observed in the Scottish populations indicates these sites are the product of multiple long distance dispersal events that may have occurred through either mode of reproduction. It is also possible to have a sexual-asexual mixture of LDD events from both spores, pollen and/or seed, and clonal fragmentation (i.e. the liverwort, Anastrophyllum hellerianum) so this could be a potential situation for C. salina.

Tromsø, Norway
Image: J. Clayton/ Edge Hill University
It’s also important to note why Bettyhill may be genetically distinct from the other surveyed populations; the sedge population found growing at Bettyhill was considered to be C. salina on its discovery in 2011 and thus has been treated as such during this study. 

However, Paul Ashton on examination of this population in the field in 2018 concluded that this may not be C. salina. This view was confirmed by Mary Dean, and they considered that the plant was most likely to be another member of sect. Phacocystis, C. vacillans, currently unknown in the UK. Scandinavian sedge expert Prof Reidar Elven identified this population to be C. nigra, however this identification has been contested by [name withheld] the BSBI’s expert referee for sedges Carex spp., raising an interesting issue regarding the true identity of the species inhabiting this area.

C. nigra
Image: J. Clayton/ Edge Hill University
The genetic results from this study do indeed indicate the Bettyhill population is an outlier when compared to other Scottish C. salina populations, and that it is genetically different from the other sites. However, there is still no current consensus on the identification of this population and it is possible that it may have been influenced by introgression or hybridisation, these being common in sect. Phacocystis. 

Further studies into closely related species and potential sources of introgression (i.e. C. vacillans, C. recta, C. nigra) are required to understand the genetic composition of the Bettyhill population, and this is something I hope to establish during my PhD in which I’ll be investigating the ecological genetics of closely related maritime species within the sect. Phacocystis.

Saltmarsh site at Gardelvneset, Tromsø
Image: J. Clayton/ Edge Hill University
Sadly in light of a changing climate, the dispersal of new colonisers is becoming a more pertinent issues. Disturbance events are expected to increase, with coastal habitats facing severer weather events and negative consequences of rising sea levels. 

These disturbance events provide opportunities for both short and long distance dispersal, and distribution patterns for species are shifting to accommodate the changes of climate change. 

Due to these reasons, it is becoming more significant that these colonisation events and the consequential dispersal are monitored, especially during the early stages of the process.

Tromsø, Norway
Image: J. Clayton/ Edge Hill University
I’d like to take another opportunity to thank BSBI for their much appreciated interest and support in this research! 

Due to the grant opportunities available, we were able to construct a much stronger project with more scientific potential, such as facilitating travel to the Loch Nevis site  which had never been surveyed by Edge Hill Biology due to the remote nature of the site. 

Further support for the Norwegian material was invaluable, as was the financial security towards the end of my studies”.

Saltmarsh site at Finnvika, Tromsø
Image: J. Clayton/ Edge Hill University
Many thanks to Jenn for this account of the work she was able to undertake thanks to her BSBI Plant Study Grant. 

A reminder that applications for the next round of BSBI grants – Training Grants, Plant Study Grants and Science & Research Grants – open on 1st January 2020. You’ll be able to download an application form here

You don’t need to be a BSBI member to apply but BSBI members are favoured if there is competition for grants. But if you aren't planning to head off to Norway in search of hybrid sedges, and if you don't even want to sign up for a training course next year, there are many other benefits of membership! Take a look at this blogpost that sets out everything you can start to enjoy as soon as you become a BSBI member.

Tuesday 8 October 2019

State of Nature in Northern Ireland

BSBI members & volunteers sort
through plants drawn from Lough Neagh
September 2019
Image: J. Faulkner 
Last week, the 2019 State of Nature report was published; BSBI Head of Science Dr Kevin Walker reported on how BSBI data, collected by our 3000+ volunteer members, underpinned the report.

The State of Nature partnership, of which BSBI is proud to be a member, also published summaries for the four countries which make up the UK, and we shared these summaries across the country pages of the BSBI website.

Below, John Faulkner, BSBI County Recorder for Co. Armagh and BSBI President 2015-2017, shares his thoughts on the state of nature in Northern Ireland

“There has been no let-up in the net loss of nature, according to the UK State of Nature report 2019. This is just as true of Northern Ireland as of the rest of the UK.

Casting a grapnel to collect aquatic plants
Image: J. Faulkner
“The Northern Ireland summary highlights our internationally important habitats and some of the pressures they face.  It also highlights pressures on species. Of over 2000 species assessed, 11% are threatened with extinction from Ireland (both north and south). About half of these species are plants, which are fundamental to all wildlife.

Lough Neagh is singled out in the report as by far the largest body of freshwater in the UK, and recent work by BSBI members illustrates the fate of plant life there. The flora of the Lough has undergone massive changes. Of all the aquatic plant species recorded as occurring in the Lough up to the year 2000, only 50% have been refound since then. The aquatic vegetation of the Lough is now dominated by a small number of species that thrive on very high nutrient levels. Plant diversity has plummeted.

Pollution by high nutrient levels – whether in water, soils or the atmosphere – is now believed to be the biggest single cause of the decline of plant species in Northern Ireland, but other factors such as habitat loss and changes in the management of marginal farmland also play a part”.

Learning about hybrid pondweeds with
expert Chris Preston as part of
Ireland's Aquatic Plant Project
Image: R. Northridge
This is obviously not pleasant reading but many thanks to John for drawing our attention to these serious declines and the reasons behind them. Thanks also to BSBI aquatics expert Nick Stewart who provided some of the stats mentioned above.

If you are concerned about our declining wild flowers and wondering what you can do to help, may we suggest that you consider contacting your BSBI County Recorder who has oversight of the wild plants in your area. Contact details are here and you don’t need to be a BSBI member to start getting involved

We can’t even begin to conserve what we don’t know about so helping to record and monitor the plants in your area, and sharing what you find out, are important steps towards preventing further declines.

Thursday 3 October 2019

State of Nature: BSBI Head of Science explains how BSBI plant records were used.

The 2019 State of Nature report has just been published and BSBI is proud to once again be a contributor, although the report makes sobering reading. There is no big launch this year (we were at the 2013 launch and also at the 2016 launch, both with Sir David Attenborough) but there will be lots online and hopefully in the media tomorrow morning.

I asked Dr Kevin Walker, BSBI's Head of Science, to tell us about the role played in the State of Nature report by BSBI data. Kevin has also been through the report, which you can download here, and below he flags up the plant-related news stories, both good and bad. 

Kidney vetch on a BIFFA butterfly bank
Image: Patrick Cashman, RSPB
Over to Kevin:
"Britain’s wildlife is arguably the best monitored in the world thanks to the millions of hours invested by a national army of volunteer recorders. State of Nature 2019 utilises this unique resource to provide the most complete picture of the state of Britain’s wildlife ever assembled; and the results are alarming. 

Whilst there are some ‘good news’ stories up to half of species in some groups are in serious trouble. 

Image: Kevin Walker
"Trends for over 1440 plants were included in the report all based on BSBI distribution records with analyses carried out by Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. The results provide some strong messages; wildflower meadows continue to decline in extent and quality, along with their associated fauna (page 15); atmospheric pollution and eutrophication is clearly impacting species of infertile conditions (page 40) and our woodlands are suffering from the effects of diseases such as Ash Die-back (pages 43-45). 

"Pasqueflower features prominently in the report but what is not mentioned is the main reason for its decline – lack of management which is now widely recognised as a threat to many species.

Lady's-slipper orchid
Image: Steve Knell, RSPB
"However, there is hope – thanks to the work of the organisations (including BSBI) that form the SoN partnership, we have an unrivalled understanding of why our wildlife is in trouble; the litany of causes includes habitat loss, modern farming methods, pollution, persecution and increasingly climate change. 

"But we also have the knowledge, technologies and increasingly public will to put things right. One example given in the report is the recovery of Lady’s-slipper Orchid from a single plant to hundreds now re-established in former sites following years of painstaking ex situ breeding and careful re-introduction.

"Plants provide the bedrock of a healthy ecosystem and it is clear from the results that their declines are exacerbating more marked declines in groups that rely on them, notably insects, mammals and birds. As the SoN report affirms, we need to start working together as one conservation movement, to make the changes needed for the good of British wildlife and the generations to come".

You can find about more about the State of Nature national report here on the BSBI website, download the full report here and we are posting country summaries across the country pages on the BSBI website. 

You can also follow the #StateofNature hashtag on Twitter.

Wednesday 2 October 2019

Best time to join BSBI?

Promoting BSBI at Ireland's first ever
National Biodiversity Conference
Image: C. Heardman
If you appreciate value for money then October really is the best month of the year for you to join BSBI! So if you've been mulling over the pros and cons, and trying to decide whether BSBI membership is right for you, please read on to find out about this month's special offer and all the benefits you can expect to enjoy once you've joined. 

The first bit of good news is that BSBI membership is currently still £30 per year (38 euros if you are based in the Republic of Ireland) - we haven't raised the subscription rate since January 2015. 

If you're under 21, or in full-time education and under 25, you can benefit from our heavily-subsidised student rate of just £12 (15 euros): we want to give our next generation botanists as big a helping hand as possible!

The next bit of good news is that if you join today (or any time for the rest of this year), once you've paid your annual subscription for 2020, your membership starts at once! So you could enjoy 15 months of benefits, starting today, for the cost of 12 months. You wouldn't need to pay again until January 2021.

Now about those benefits: firstly, if you're a book-lover, BSBI membership opens the door to some great ways to save money on botany books. You'll have noticed in recent days that we've been flagging the special offers on three major new botany books. 

Until the end of November 2019, BSBI members can benefit from exclusive members-only offers and save £10 on the RRP of Grassland plants of the British & Irish lowlands and a further £5 on the RRP of Gentians of Britain & Ireland. They can also save at least another £5.50 (that special offer price excludes P&P) if they order a copy of Poland & Clement's Vegetative Key to the British Flora 2nd edition, although you don't need to be a BSBI member to benefit from that special offer. (You're too generous, John Poland!).

And any BSBI member entering the BSBI members-only area of the Summerfield Books website will find special offers on no less than 51 titles this month! So if you're a fan of buying botany books, you can quickly recoup the cost of your BSBI membership next time you do some book-shopping.        

Apart from great savings on books, another perk of BSBI membership is that you get three print copies each year of BSBI News, our very popular membership newsletter. Here's a taster of what was in the September 2019 issue

You also get access to all the scientific papers published in New Journal of Botany, our scientific journal which ran from 2011 to the end of 2017. We've made its replacement,  British & Irish Botany, available free of charge to everyone so you don't need to be a BSBI member to view or download papers published there.

But you definitely need to be a BSBI member if you want access to our network of 100+ expert plant referees who can advise you on the identification of the trickiest of plants. Two of those referees deal only with enquiries from beginners, so whatever your skill level, you will benefit from access to the referees, who include some of the top specialist botanists in Britain & Ireland. 

We never share contact details of those referees with non-members - very occasionally we may name one or two in public, with their permission, but that's all! - but once you have joined you will receive a print copy of the BSBI Yearbook with full contact details for all of them and guidance on how to send any of them live or pressed plant material or photographs.

Selection of BSBI
publications available
from Summerfield Books
Image: P. O'Hara 
You will also have access to the password-protected members-only area of the BSBI website, where you will find resources such as: 
  • electronic versions of BSBI News going back for the past five years; 
  • an index to back issues of BSBI News so you can easily find articles published on any given plant species or other botanical subject; 
  • an electronic version of the BSBI Yearbook so it's even easier for you to get hold of referees and County Recorders
  • the BSBI membership list so you can find fellow members in your area (if they have agreed to share those details); 
  • a link through to the password-protected BSBI Governance website so you can see the deliberations of BSBI's Council and all its committees
  • you'll be offered ways to take part in BSBI consultations and reviews on next steps within the society; 
  • and of course you will be eligible to vote in our Annual General Meeting
BSBI is a society led by its members, for its members!

As a member, you'll benefit from special offers on publications and events - we give you advance notice of forthcoming BSBI events, conferences and meetings (most are open to all but some are members-only, or members have priority booking). 

Learn more about botany with a BSBI training grant
Image L. Marsh
If you're planning to apply for a BSBI training grant (they open on 1st January each year and you can apply for up to £250 towards a botanical training course) - you don't have to be a BSBI member but "members are favoured if there is competition for grants". And I've never known a year when there wasn't competition for grants! 

Finally, you'll have the option of applying for some of the great volunteering opportunities we offer - most of them are only available to BSBI members.

So, you get great reading material, access to the country's top botanists for ID help and advice, you get to shape the society's future and you get to save money on botany books. You also have the pleasure of supporting BSBI's important work and helping us further our aims

Join BSBI to see great plants in great company!
Image: L. Marsh
And if you join online in October, you will be paying just £2 per month for all those benefits until the end of 2020! 

Head over to our membership subscription page to see the various ways to pay and what you can expect to find in your membership welcome pack. We look forward to welcoming you as a fellow BSBI member!

PS If you're already a BSBI member, why not forward a link to this blogpost to any friend(s) or colleague(s) who you think might enjoy becoming a member?