Skip to content

How does increasing temperature and air pollution affect wildflower signalling to attract pollinators?

Lead supervisor: Dr Kirsti Ashworth (

Location: Lancaster Environment Centre (LEC) and UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) Bangor

Duration: 8-10 weeks (depending on age and experience)


Are you looking to transfer your knowledge and skills to tackling critical environmental challenges?

A funded opportunity is available for an undergraduate student in a quantitative discipline such as mathematics, computing, physical sciences or engineering (subject to eligibility criteria below) to contribute to an ongoing international study to improve our understanding of how climate change may affect pollination.

You will work within a team from the Lancaster Environment Centre (LEC) and UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), and have the opportunity to interact with world-leading research groups from US. Work can begin from 28th June and will run until September (approximately 8-10 weeks of flexible working, depending on age and experience). You will be supported by a student stipend of National Living Wage from the Envision NERC scheme. This paid research placement is an exciting opportunity to gain experience in environmental sampling and chemical identification, and advanced data analysis, all while developing your CV.

Up to 88% of flowering plant species are dependent on insect pollinators for reproduction and succession. In addition to visual cues, flowers emit distinctive mixtures of volatiles to signal and attract pollinators over distances of up to several 100 metres. However, the synthesis and emissions of volatiles by plants are known to be affected by environmental conditions, particularly temperature and oxidative damage caused by exposure to air pollution. With both temperature and surface ozone concentrations projected to rise over the coming decades and a steady decline in pollinator numbers, there is increasing concern that changes in plant volatile emissions could lead to a breakdown in communication between plants and pollinators, reducing or even preventing pollination.

The specific objectives of this project are:

  • to collect and analyse samples of floral volatiles emitted by wildflowers to attract pollinators;
  • to identify and quantify differences in timing, magnitude and composition of volatiles emitted by plants grown under different temperatures and ozone concentrations;
  • to explore how such changes map to pollinator lifecycles and species preferences to understand the implications of changing emissions on pollinator attraction.

This self-contained study would form part of an on-going collaborative project to understand the impact of global change on plant pollination, and would include the opportunity to visit the state-of-the-art geodesic glasshouse facilities at UKCEH Bangor.

Following training and initial supervision by Dr Ashworth and the Biosphere-Atmosphere Interactions research group, you will be encouraged to work independently with regular discussions and guidance from the group. By the end of the placement, you would have gained:

  • laboratory and analysis skills and techniques fundamental to the environmental and chemical sciences, specifically headspace sample collection, and the application, analysis and interpretation of mass spectroscopy
  • experiential learning from current research students, leading to increased understanding of the wider skills involved in research
  • opportunity to make an important contribution to a key issue in environmental and ecological research: the effects of global change on pollination
  • experience of the collaborative nature of research
  • opportunity to build and demonstrate independence and critical thinking

The specific training and degree of independence offered will be guided by your needs.


To apply, send a short (maximum one A4 page) letter of motivation and your CV to Dr Kirsti Ashworth ( by 7th June 2021. Applicants must also complete the online EDI form (this form is a mandatory part of the application process, but contains ‘prefer not to say’ options for all questions asked). Please feel free to contact Kirsti if you have any further enquiries or wish to discuss the opportunity further.

We particularly welcome applications from students from under-represented backgrounds and those with non-traditional routes to university.

Please note the eligibility criteria, selected students must meet all of the following criteria to be eligible for a REP. The students must:

  • Be undertaking your first undergraduate degree studies (or integrated Masters).
  • Be applying for a placement in a different department to your undergraduate degree
  • Be eligible for subsequent NERC PhD funding (PhD studentships eligibility criteria)