Start date: Successful applicants will be expected to start May or October 2023.
This project will quantify changes in biodiversity, ecosystem function, carbon stocks and their interactions during the initial phases of rewilding. At the primary field site, some 66 experimental fixed plots are set up within formerly agricultural land comprising a variety of arable, improved, and natural grasslands. Rewilding was initiated in 2022, with the cessation of agricultural activities which will be followed by large herbivore re-introduction (eg hardy free-ranging cattle and pigs). The analysis will quantify ecosystem changes in time, against baseline data collected in 2021-2022, and enable an assessment of rewilding contribution notably to net-zero and nature recovery policies.
We anticipate the project to be a unique opportunity to work with a range of collaborators inside and outside academia. We are looking for candidates with a strong interest in combining biodiversity, microbiological and environmental science, to develop novel evidence contributing to the UN decade of ecosystem restoration.
Important Note: This fees-only PhD Studentship covers tuition fees for the period of a full-time PhD Registration of up to four years, subject to satisfactory progress. This is not a fully-funded opportunity, unfortunately.
Identifying a mysterious Lamiaceae from St Jean Cliffs
In July 2003, I collected and pressed an intriguing Lamiaceae while exploring the woodlands at the base of the St Jean Cliffs, Geneva, Switzerland. This was part of my personal efforts to develop my botany skills and explore Geneva’s urban biodiversity. The plant had the unusual characteristic to present ten calyx lobes, which pointed to the genus Marrubium. However, the plant did not match the only Marrubium known from Switzerland.
Asking my contact at the Geneva Botanic Garden did not lead to a specific identification neither. A few years later I brought my specimen to Reading Botanic Garden and helped by Ronnie Rutherford, I narrowed the identification to Ballotarupestris (Biv.) Vis. (syn. Ballota hispanica (L.) Benth.) of Italian origin i.e. not a Marrubium species and not a species recorded in standard Swiss Floras to my knowledge to date.
Population size and local flora
In 2003 and 2004, I returned to the site a few times because of numerous species of floristic interest present (Arabis turrita, Erysimum cheiri, Saponaria ocymoides, Tanacetum parthenium, Campanula alliariifolia, Campanula persicifolia, Smyrnium perfoliatum, Scrophularia canina)
I also revisited the site one time in winter in 2007-2009 and counted about a dozen plants of the mysterious Lamiacea in a thorough search for the plant by the path and on the slope between the path and the cliff base. Unfortunately, I lost the paper sheet with my notes from this latter visit.
Returning on the 23rd of October 2022, I can report a healthy and growing population. The path has been substantially remodelled and improved for walkers, in addition, some of the slopes have been stabilised with geotextiles. There appears to be a much larger population than I remember and also plants of variable size, possibly indicating dynamic natural regeneration by seed.
The presence of Pseudodictamnus hispanicus (L.) Salmaki & Siadati certainly fits, in terms of exotism, but one can only speculate about the origin of the plant at this location. The first step to formulate a hypothesis would be thorough searches at the Herbarium of Geneva Botanic Garden and find out whether there are specimens pre-dating the one I collected in 2003. There is a very long tradition of botanising and collecting specimens to document the Geneva flora.
Within Italy, P. hispanicus is only known from the southern parts (Calabria, Campania, Puglia and Sicilia). Therefore, the Geneva population expands considerably the distribution of the species. Information included in this note also confirms a continuous presence for a period of at least 20 years at the St Jean site, supporting a long-term establishment. Until more evidence emerges, we can assume a relatively recent introduction in Geneva (19 or 20 Century) and I would recommend the status of neophyte. In addition, I propose the French name ballote douce (referring to the French name for the closely allied genus Ballota, avoiding any reference to the confusing epithet hispanicum, or other synonyms, and describing the softness of the leaves to the touch and smell, contrasting with the other Ballota taxa in the area).
The binomial’s epithet hispanicus requires commenting, given the known distribution of the taxa. The specific name is inherited from Carl Linnaeus’s publication of Marrubium hispanicum in the second volume of Species Plantarum in 1753 (p. 583). Linnaeus wrote “Habitat in Hispania” for the species. There is clearly a geographical discrepancy between distribution and name, which will be explored further in the next section. A similarly confusing binomial coined by Lineaeus is that of Scilla peruviana, a species not at all from Peru, but an endemic to the Western Mediterranean that allegedly reached Northern Europe, where it was described, on a ship called “Peru”.
The roots of the problem may be traced to Linnaeus’s original description in Species Plantorum, published in 1753, and potentially a poorer understanding of the range of species in this group of plants at the time. The description provided for Marrubiumhispanicum matches better the Italian taxa, than the specimen within Linnaeus’s collection that is labelled as M. hispanicum. However, it is important to note that the M. hispanicum description in Species Plantarum is not incompatible with Pseudodictamnus hirsutus, from Spain, the taxa appearing on Linnaeus’s herbarium sheet labelled Marrubium hipanicum L. However, it is to be noted that Linnaeus did not work solely with his own collection of specimens and it may not be ever possible to fully clarify his exact intentions and knowledge of these taxa at the time.
We may be stuck with a confusing name, for what is a lovely species, now know to have wider distribution range.
“Understanding the processes, mediator and times-scales involved during post-industrial ecological recovery will increasingly be on the agenda. While there is currently an expansion of industrialisation across the world, there will be the need to restore these ecosystems in the future and rewilding in this context can address both climate change and biodiversity concerns. However, there are only very few locations where post-industrial recovery can be studied, where the effect of industrialisation has already retreated, and ecosystems are rewilding. As a result, rewilding of post-industrial sites is understudied. This presentation introduces environmental monitoring in the Tees estuary, UK, a site of early, heavy industrialisation where habitats were transformed, and biota extirpated from the 1840s. From the 1980s, this estuary saw key indicators of ecosystems health such as seals and migratory fish returning. While high resolution census data is being collected for charismatic organisms (seal, salmon), lesser-known biota, including primary producers are not monitored, leading to a poor understanding of the existing food chain. Similarly, water quality is thoroughly monitored but for emerging pollution such as plastics and plastic additives. In the Tees estuary, a major factor for ecological recovery was the collaboration of stakeholders from industry, governmental agencies, and NGOs. Unfortunately, there is no rigorous and detailed account of how this dialogue mediated ecological recovery. In short, we introduce the monitoring of an internationally-significant case study, providing knowledge of best practice when rewilding coastal ecosystem in post-industrial conditions.”