Biodiversity, wellbeing and colour: wildflower genomics to inform the creation of new habitats

DEVEGA_E22DTP1A

Sowing wildflower seeds is an essential part of our efforts to rewild urban landscapes and restore biodiversity, but how can we make sure that our efforts are not in vain?

This exciting PhD opportunity aims to clarify the economic and environmental value that wildflower seedstocks and newly restored habitats provide. The student will work with partners at the Eden Project to investigate the commercial seed production lifecycle and its potential narrowing effect in genetic diversity.

The commercial wildflower seedstock that is sown in environmental and urban restoration projects may suffer from a narrow genetic base and reduced adaptive potential because of limited founders and unconscious selection during multiplication.

We will compare the genetic diversity in wildflower seedstock and some of the original sites it was sourced, and test how these wildflower populations perform in different environments and soils in controlled conditions. We will explore phenotypic and transcriptional differences between selected wildflower species in variable environmental conditions, focusing on a “warmer and drier” future scenario.

This PhD project will provide the student with expertise in plant genomics and evolutionary biology using cutting-edge sequencing and phenotyping methods. The project is a collaboration between the Earlham Institute, the School of Biology – University of East Anglia, and the Eden Project in Cornwall. The unique combined expertise will provide the student with excellent training in genomics, bioinformatics, evolutionary biology, and general plant sciences (phenomics, experimental design, statistical analysis, horticultural experiments, etc.), with a strong focus on bioinformatics and data applications, and spanning public outreach and community engagement.

The student will be part of the growing cohort of PhD students at Earlham Institute, a research institute at the Norwich Research Park focused on decoding biodiversity and exploring living systems by applying bioinformatics, data, and biotechnology, with unique computing and training platforms.

References

Basey et al. Producing native plant materials for restoration: 10 rules to collect and maintain genetic diversity. Native Plants Journal. 2015 Mar 20;16(1):37-53.

Higgins et al. The five Urochola spp. used in development of tropical forage cultivars originate from defined subpopulations with differentiated gene pools. bioRxiv (2021).

De Vega et al. Physiological and transcriptional response to drought stress among bioenergy grass Miscanthus species. Biotechnol Biofuels 14, 60 (2021).