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New SFI funded project for School of Natural Sciences

May 2010

Toxic nectar and pollen: impacts on flower visitors and role in invasion success?


Dr Jane Stout (School of Natural Sciences, Botany) has been awarded funding from Science Foundation Ireland to investigate the ecological impacts of toxic nectar and pollen on flower-visiting insects, and the role toxins may play in invasion by exotic species. Nectar is produced by flowers as food for pollinating animals. However, nectar from some species contains chemicals which may be toxic to flower-visiting insects.

This project will examine the effects of toxic nectar from invasive Rhododendron on native insects and determine why toxic nectar is produced – is it to deter flower visitors that do not pollinate? Also, we will investigate which Rhododendron species have toxic nectar and how poisonous it is. Findings will be crucial for informing conservation management of declining pollinators and invading non-native plants.

Rhododendron ponticum, an invasive species in Ireland, produces toxic nectar and pollen which appears to have little impact on the survival of bumblebees, the main pollinators in Ireland. In fact, R. ponticum may act as an important floral resource for these bees. However, other bees (e.g. honeybees) avoid Rhododendron flowers, presumably because they cannot tolerate the toxins.

This 4-year project is an interdisciplinary collaboration, bringing together Dr Stout’s expertise in invasion biology and pollination ecology with Dr Geraldine Wright (a neuroethologist  from University of Newcastle, UK), Dr Phil Stevenson (a chemist jointly based at the University of Greenwich and Jodrell Laboratory, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK) and TCD Research Associate Prof Mark Brown (an evolutionary ecologist, formerly at TCD, now at Royal Holloway University of London, UK).

The team will assess the impacts of floral toxins on plant mutualists (pollinators) and antagonists (nectar thieves – insects which visit flowers in order to collect nectar, but who do not transfer pollen and act as pollinators) and explore the extent to which toxic nectar plays a role in invasion by non-native species.

*A PhD studentship is currently available - click here for more information (PDF 80KB)*

 

Dr Stout studying pollination of Rhododendron in the field.

Dr Stout studying pollination of Rhododendron in the field.

Bombus lucorum, one of the principal pollinators of Rhododendron ponticum in Ireland.

Bombus lucorum, one of the principal pollinators of Rhododendron ponticum in Ireland.

 

 


Last updated 24 July 2017 Natural Sciences (Email).