Editorial Advisor for Plant People Planet, New Phytologist Foundation

This external committent at Plant People Planet will be an opportunity to bring together academic and botanical expertise and develop my editorial skills.

Plants, People, Planet aims to promote outstanding plant-based research in its broadest sense and to celebrate everything new, innovative and exciting in plant sciences that is relevant to society and people’s daily lives. For more details, see our Aims and Scope.

I am very fortunate to have joined the editorial board at large and will be serving as editorial advisor.

Recent observation and status of alpine clubmoss in the North York Moors (VC 62 NE Yorks)

My interests and skills as field botanist, researcher and university lecturer promoting teaching and learning of ecology in the natural environment, came together very nicely, when discovering a botanical rarity in the North York Moors (NYM) during a field trip with student.

This finding is now reported in BSBI News 150 pp37-39 Alpine Clubmoss. If you are interested in botany and would like to join the BSBI, then please, should to https://bsbi.org/. There are links to the join page and Louise’s blog, where people can download a sampler of the issue and a free article.

Finding alpine clubmoss (Diphasiastrum alpinum) at Danby Beacon challenged my identification skills. As a member of the BSBI (Botanical society of Britain and Ireland), I was able to benefit from the panel of referee, experts ready to help with any critical identification.

Also it prompted me to research previous observation of this species in the NYM, reported in the article. Key sources of information were the NBN Atlas, the BSBI database as well as this article.

The article even includes data collected by Teesside University student when practising a key skill in ecology and conservation: measuring vegetation structure and plant biodiversity using quadrats (illustrated below).

Recording plant biodiversity in acid grassland in the New Forest (Hampshire, UK), using a 1m x 1m quadrat.

“Monitoring Change during Rewilding” at the INTECOL 2022 conference

I’m delight to announced that Dr Ed Rollason (VC Fellow at Northumbria University) and I are organising the talk session:

“Monitoring abiotic, biotic and socio-ecological change during rewilding: opportunities and barriers”

part of INTECOL2022 in Geneva, Switzerland, August 28 – September 2 2022.

The International Association for Ecology (INTECOL) supports collaboration amongst ecologists and ecological societies across the world. The INTECOL congresses are organised every four year and are some of the most important international ecology conferences.

The proposal now accepted justified the session of talks as follows:

“Rewilding, as a conservation practice, is increasingly put forward as a nature-based solution providing multiple benefits contributing to tackling the current climate and biodiversity crises. Yet, the full scale of these benefits remains to be quantified over time and in a variety of situations.

“In this session, we present a series of talks that provides the audience with an overview of relevant monitoring practices and aims, as well as selected case studies. Speakers will demonstrate how the field of ecology, multidisciplinary by nature, can facilitate data collection, evidence gathering and decision-making during rewilding.

“Effective monitoring during rewilding can collect critical evidence for multiple purposes. Firstly, it enables the measurement of progress and success for specific time frames and situations such as abandoned agricultural landscapes. Secondly, it can facilitate adaptative management when specific benefits such as carbon sequestration are targeted. Thirdly, it provides guidance for planning, undertaking or initiating new rewilding initiatives.

“This session will not only disseminate important knowledge about one key conservation practice lined up to fight climate change and biodiversity loss, but also, it will bring together a collective of ecologists with unique expertise and a shared interest for monitoring change during rewilding.

“In addition to expertise, diversity was an important consideration when bringing together this collective of speakers: from within and outside academia; and straddling all career stages (from PhD student to full Professor).”

RSPB Saltholme’s rewilding project in the Tees Valley

It is very exciting to hear Chris Francis from RSPB Saltholme speak about his new rewilding project on Teesside.

Rewilding is gaining momentum as an opportunity to address the climate and biodiversity crisis, but there remains a lack of quantitative evidence detailing the biodiversity and ecosystem services responses in different landscapes. This lack of evidence is particularly acute in post-industrial landscapes, and I propose to study this 100ha site due to be rewilded by RSPB from 2022 in one of the most industrialised area of the UK, with ad hoc monitoring to capture change over time, as natural processes override anthropogenic influence.

Photographs of the hybrid Cymbalaria muralis x C. pallida in Sheffield

Wilcox and Ruhsam (2020) recently identified for the first time putative F1 hybrids of Cymbalaria muralis x C. pallida. They confirmed three (3) plants as this hybrid growing in Northern England, using ITS molecular analysis.

Wilcox, M and Ruhsam, M (2020). The genus Cymbalaria Hill (Toadflaxes) in Britain and the discovery of C. muralis × C. pallida. BSBI News 143, January.

More recently, they confirmed an additional fourth specimen as this hybrid (Mike Wilcox and Marcus Ruhsam, personal communication). The plant grew between cracks of a private front garden wall and the pavement on Greenhow Street, Walkley, in or near SK33108844. The plant was first observed in 2016 and all the pictures below where taken in August and September 2017.

The plant was observed absent in 2018 by myself and not refund in 2019 by Mike Wilcox.

See below for galleries of photos taken in 2017 and associated notes.

  • 3 to 4 long trailing stems up to >60cm
  • Resembling C. muralis in habit
  • Hairy leaves and stems as in C. pallida
  • Tissues fleshy as in C. pallida
  • Fruits and seeds presents
  • Flower length (3 flowers measured, spur length in bracket)
  • 15 (5) mm
  • 14 (4) mm
  • 14 (4.5) mm (flower in bud)
  • C. muralis is frequent on walls in the area
  • C. pallida is occasional on walls and in front gardens nearby, e.g. in Crooks
Comparison of hybrid vs C. muralis flower
Gallery 1: habit observed in situ
Gallery 2: Details observed in situ
Gallery 3: Details of flower, calyx, fruit and seed


New paper: Heterogeneity enables coexistence of native and invasive aquatic plants

Salgado, J., Sayer, C. D., Willby, N., Baker, A. G., Goldsmith, B., McGowan, S., Davidson, T. A., Bexell, P., Patmore, I. R. & Okamura, B. (2021) Habitat heterogeneity enables spatial and temporal coexistence of native and invasive macrophytes in shallow lake landscapes. River Research and Applications. https://doi.org/10.1002/rra.3839

First published: 15 July 2021
Macrophyte invasive alien species (IAS) fitness is often hypothesised to be associated with beneficial environmental conditions (environmental matching) or species-poor communities. However, positive correlations between macrophyte IAS abundance and native plant richness can also arise, due to habitat heterogeneity (defined here as variation in abiotic and native biotic conditions over space and time). We analysed survey and palaeoecological data for macrophytes in satellite lakes along the Upper Lough Erne (ULE) system (Northern Ireland, UK), covering a gradient of eutrophication and connectivity to partition how environmental conditions, macrophyte diversity and habitat heterogeneity explained the abundance of Elodea canadensis, a widely distributed non-native macrophyte in Europe. E. canadensis abundance positively correlated with macrophyte richness at both the within- and between-lake scales indicating coexistence of native and invasive species over time. E. canadensis was also more prolific in highly connected and macrophyte-rich lakes, but sparser in the more eutrophic-isolated ones. Partial boosted regression trees revealed that in eutrophic-isolated lakes, E. canadensis abundances correlated with water clarity (negatively), plant diversity (positively), and plant cover (negatively) whereas in diverse-connected lakes, beta diversity (both positively and negatively) related to most greatly E. canadensis abundance. Dense macrophyte cover and unfavourable environmental conditions thus appear to confer invasibility resistance and sufficient habitat heterogeneity to mask any single effect of native biodiversity or environmental matching in controlling E. canadensis abundance. Therefore, in shallow lake landscapes, habitat heterogeneity variously enables the coexistence of native macrophytes and E. canadensis, reducing the often-described homogenisation effects of invasive macrophytes.

Infographic synthesising the parentage of British and Irish mints (genus Mentha)

I am sharing a diagram drawn as a memory aid to support field botanists remembering the origins of the species and hybrids of mints find in Britain and Ireland (genus Mentha). It is based on Stace IV and  R. M. Harley’s account of the genus Mentha in Stace et al. 2015. Hybrid Flora of the British Isles. The diagram does not reflects the full complexity of each taxa and is a simplification based on best current knowledge. In addition, it does not include the interesting new insights presented in Heylen et al 2021.

First record for Acaena inermis in the North York Moors national park and for the botanical vice county of NE Yorkshire (62)

This blog post reports on the discovery of a small population of Acaena inermis near Danby Beacon in the North York Moors National Park. Unlike other piri piri bur species such as A. novae-zelandiae (e.g. Invasive Species Compendium, CABI, 2021, https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/111979), A. inermis is not known as an undesirable alien, however population dynamic is relatively unknown in Britain.

The population described here is nonetheless of biological interest based on the distance to known records and the site being located within a designated area for nature conservation. It is also an opportunity to highlight the species and some of its characteristics to other field botanists and conservationists, hopefully to improve recording coverage.

Distribution in Britain and Ireland and description of the Danby Beacon location

A. inermis is a relatively rare alien plant in Britain and Ireland, with scattered records from lowland location (from Southern England to Edinburg) and a few well known clusters of records from upland natural habitats: Isle of Skye, the Grampians, the Southern Uplands of Scotland, and in England in the Cheviot Hills (Coquet dale). These small clusters of upland populations appear well established, some since the 1970s and the Skye population may be increasing with new sites having been reported in recent years (e.g. Bungard, 2019, https://skyeraasayplants.wordpress.com/2019/05/31/aliens-day/; BSBI 2021 map).

The new location reported here is isolated by about 100 km from three other English presences hitherto reported (South Yorkshire, Skipton area, Coquet Valley). Although there may be unknown sites in between that could have acted as stepping stones, the population presented here is more likely to be an independent introduction from cultivation into the wild.

At Danby Beacon, the population is located on a lay-by popular with visitor (NZ726085, at or adjacent to NZ726308656), with a lovely view to the SW, popular with visitors for picnics and for quiet time in a camping chair by the car. Due to this relative popularity, it can be speculated that propagules of the plant reached the site on car tyres. The propagules could have been directly brought from a garden or a drive way to to this lay-by by visitors of the national park. The habitat is a species rich acidic grasssland, with species such as Antennaria dioica, Euphrasia sp., Veronica officinalis, Galium saxatile, Nardus stricta, Festuca rubra, Cynosurus cristatus, Calluna vulgaris, Trifolium repens, Polygala serpyllifolia, Carex pilulifera, Pilosella officinals, Leontodon saxatile, and other species.

Invasives and conservation

Reporting the first introduction of alien plant in an area can be important to identify the pace and vectors of colonisation, especially in genera with well known undesirable species. The North York Moors national park authority, has already taken action against A. novae-zelandiae in one location and may want to keep on eye on this new comer in the area, until we know more about the population dynamic of A. inermis in the area. Acidic grassland where the population is located is a highly threatened habitats in Britain (see e.g. Carly Stevens 2011 paper).

Improving our understanding of A. inermis distribution

Acaena inermis is a species from New Zealand, first recorded in the wild in the Britain or Ireland in the 1970s. Identification of the Danby Beacon population was based on the CRIB account for Acaena (Yeo, 1988, https://bsbi.org/wp-content/uploads/dlm_uploads/Acaena_Crib.pdf). There is also abundant photography on the internet as the species is a popular rockery plant. The species, as well as one cultivated variety (Acaena inermis cv ‘Purpurea’) is widely available from nurseries for outdoor gardens. It is not clear to me whether the population described here belongs to this the ‘Purpurea’ cv or not, and even not clear from internet searches whether all specimens of this species can be found under the name ‘Purpurea’ due to the type colouration of the foliage. I would be keen to hear from experienced nursery-people on this point.

At the Danby Beacon site the plant is extremely difficult to spot due to its size, prostrate stem and colour, which mimics topsoil litter. In addition, the bright red spines that can develop on the fruits were not observed by the end of July 2021.