New project: Sarracenia in Europe

Sarracenia purpurea and Sarracenia flavia on Chobham Common

Sarracenia purpurea and Sarracenia flavia on Chobham Common

This week I started the fieldwork for a new project looking at Sarracenia sp. in Europe. I am looking at a small number of sites in the UK and Ireland. This week I visited the first site – Chobham Common – which has a very small population.

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NERC funded PhD studentship – plant functional traits and coastal dune wetlands


  • Measuring sand dune wetland vegetation responses to past environmental change and modelling impacts of future change.
  • Working with key conservation organisations at internationally important wildlife sites around the UK.
  • Development of novel bioindicators for condition of sand dune wetlands.

Click here for full details

Application deadline: 25th January 2015


Sand dune wetlands are highly biodiverse and support many rare UK plant, invertebrate and vertebrate species. They are, however, severely threatened by human activities, in particular climate change and eutrophication. The extent of these habitats has declined by 30% at key sites over 20 years; an increase in site fertility was also detected (Stratford et al. 2013). There is, therefore, a pressing need to understand better their response to global environmental change. Currently, however, our understanding is limited, and conservation management is hampered by a lack of data on the current condition of dune wetlands, and on their response to environmental change drivers.

To better understand the reasons and mechanisms for this decline there is a need to develop novel methods to predict sensitivity to these key threats. Plant functional traits (PFTs, e.g. leaf size, root length, growth form, plant height, nutrient uptake strategy) are a promising option in this respect; they are a potentially powerful method for understanding, predicting and monitoring vegetation responses to environmental change. This is because PFTs are shared across species, relate directly to how plants – and so ecosystems – function, and can be relatively easily measured.

Figure 1:Modelled climate change impacts on dune wetlands in north west England (Curreli et al. 2013).


 This PhD will use analysis of PFTs to determine how dune wetland plant communities are affected by two key environmental change drivers: climate change and eutrophication. PFTs will then be combined with other plant community metrics to develop a set of easily measured indicators of the condition of dune wetland plant communities.

We are looking for an ecology, environmental science or geography graduate who is willing to travel around the UK to work on some of the most valuable sand dune ecosystems in Europe. The student will work with government, NGO and private sector stakeholders to produce high quality science that will have real, applied impact beyond academia.

The aim of this PhD is to answer the following questions

  1. Do plant functional and community-mean traits capture biological responses to hydrological change and eutrophication?
  2. Can response functions be derived which quantitatively link metrics of hydrological regime or nutrient status to biological condition, and do these response functions differ according to soil pH, community age and management?
  3. Are these approaches transferable to new wetland communities?

Funded PhD studentship in Forest Ecology


The School of Social, Political and Geographical Sciences has funding for six PhD studentships. Funding covers fees plus a tax free stipend of c. £14,000 per year. If you are interested please email me ( in the first instance. Details of the studentships are here, details of this specific project are below.

How do edge effects impact on forest soil carbon/nitrogen storage and cycling?

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PhD Studentship: Nitrogen dynamics in alpine catchments of the eastern margin of Tibet (SW China)


Would you like to undertake fieldwork here, on the margin of Tibet? If so, read on….

Applications are invited for a project in competition for funding from the NERC CENTA Doctoral Training Partnership ( This project will be based in the Department of Geography at Loughborough University, supervised by Dr. Jonathan Millett and Prof. John Anderson. For full details about this studentship and other CENTA studentships at Loughborough, please go to

Much of the reactive nitrogen created by humans is deposited on natural and semi-natural systems. This nitrogen deposition can have important negative impacts on ecosystem processes such as primary productivity, nutrient cycling and interactions between organisms. The resulting loss in biodiversity has implications for the ecosystem services we get from these systems. This PhD is an exciting opportunity to measure the impacts of nitrogen deposition on alpine lake catchments on the margin of Tibet in SW China. The student will investigate the interactions between the high levels of atmospheric N deposition in these areas and Yak grazing, a key controller of ecosystem function.

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persistence in the face of adversity

susanna drosera


Susanna joined me for a four-week research project placement as part of the Nuffield Foundation Research Placement scheme. She has been blogging about her project. This is her final blog…

Susanna: week 4

So my experiment is completed, finally, however looking at the results for all the insects there seems to be no particular pattern whatsoever, and certainly not a significant one. There are lots of reasons why this could have happened, either something was wrong with the experiment, something was wrong with the insects, something was wrong with the theory, or a combination of those factors. Therefore it’s really difficult to pinpoint exactly why my results differ from the experiment I was reproducing.

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repetition is the mother of learning

Susanna: week 3

Bioassay after bioassay after bioassay has been my week. Take the insect out of container, put in test apparatus, take out of test apparatus and put back in container. Rinse and repeat. It is interesting to observe their behaviour, but completing each treatment for an appropriate number of insects is taking a lot more time that I originally thought it would. Therefore I have had to cut my treatments down from the intended 6 to 4 instead, and it seems unlikely that I will be able to complete the 4th one with all the insects.

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time waits for no man

Josh: week 3

So, the end of week three! That’s gone quickly!

This week, we moved on from the previous plot (6) and went on to sample another research plot (4) in the woodland adjacent to this. Ironically, the sampling of this plot turned out to be a lot more efficient than plot 6. This was due to an increase in soil moisture conditions as a result of Rain and obviously becoming more accustomed to equipment used to sample each grid section…Professionals!

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Never work with children, animals and… insects?

Blog 2  Susanna: week 2    

This week the equipment has been set up and I’ve been doing some practice bioassays to get a general idea of the behaviour of the insects. It has definitely been a challenge to get the insects in the Y-tube and back out; I now know for a fact I will never be an entomologist. The main problem is the springtails/Collembola, purely because they’re so easy to squish. The fruit flies/Drosophila melanogaster are relatively easy to handle, but the ants/Lasius niger are also quite difficult as they move pretty quickly. The process of starving all the insects has also been tricky as many of them just die, although it’s probably because of a lack of water.

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Optimism wins the day

woodland floor

Josh: week 2

It doesn’t seem like seven days ago today I was writing the first blog post for my Nuffield Placement. Seven days ago, I had come to the end of the planning section of my report, and felt all I had listed there was achievable, quickly and easily. As per usual, I was totally wrong. Let me guide you through this week’s activities!

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Do light intensity and tree cover affect soil Carbon storage?

Josh 2014 equiptment photo

Josh: week 1

A predominant concern of the scientific community and the public worldwide within the last decade can be summarised in two words: ‘Global Warming’. The increased awareness of all individuals to the terrifying effects of deforestation and increased carbon emissions has led to various passionate arguments against these activities; the world is sentencing itself to death! Despite the increased awareness of these activities, they are increasing year upon year. I have therefore decided to conduct my Nuffield research project on Soil Organic Carbon Storage in soils, and the effects of Tree cover and the consequent decrease in Light intensity upon this. My research will not only provide a basis for future students to develop my work, but will also reinstate the scientific fact that our woodlands are vitally important to the Carbon Cycle and therefore to the reduction of the Greenhouse gasses effect. Finally, The introduction of Ash Dieback (Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus) into British woodlands only serves to further increase the importance of my work, as a comparative figure for when the woodlands are struck by this fungal calamity.  Let me take you through the process!

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How is the prey of carnivorous plants attracted?

Susanna 2014 olfactometer

Susanna: week 1

Y-tube olfactometer with 2 chambers.

My name is Susanna Kenney, and I’m a 17 year old student about to start my final year of A-levels studying Maths, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Currently I’m undertaking a Nuffield Summer Research placement with Dr. Jon Millett at the Department of Geography in Loughborough University in order to obtain valuable experience in a scientific environment. I will record my progress through this placement with a weekly blog.

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Nuffield Research Placements

This year I am hosting two students taking part in the excellent Nuffield Research Placement scheme. This scheme places A-level students with research labs during the summer between their two A-level years. The students undertake a small project that is part of the research of the lab. The scheme aims to be of benefit to the students (through experience of research and of HE) and to the researcher (an extra pair of hands and a brain to conduct useful research).

This year I am taking part in the scheme for the first time – I’m normally away on field work all summer so can’t commit. I have two students with me – Josh and Susanna. We are at the end of the first week (of four).  They have been working hard and so far this has been a positive experience for me, and hopefully for them.

Josh and Susanna will be writing weekly blog posts to record their progress.  The first to appear soon.

Colour isn’t key for carnivorous plants


Drosera rotundifolia (Roundleaved sundew) at Thorne Moss, with captured prey

The widespread belief that carnivorous plants are brightly coloured to attract prey could be wrong, according to the latest research published by scientists at Loughborough University.

Many carnivorous plants are bright red in colour, which is widely hypothesized to attract prey or provide camouflage. But a new study, published today in Royal Society journal Biology Letters, monitored capture rates of natural and artificial carnivorous species Drosera rotundifolia(commonly known as Sundew) and found the colour of the plant made little difference.

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Funded PhD studentships

There is an opportunity to apply for a university funded PhD studentship supervised by Dr. Jonathan Millett. There are five available within the School of Social Sciences, Politics, Geography and History at Loughborough University.  I have put some very broad outlines for suitable projects below. If you are interested in undertaking a PhD in any of these areas please contact me and we can discuss an appropriate application. These studentships provide a stipend of £13,725 per annum plus home/EU tuition fees and are to start 1st October 2014. You should apply before 21st March 2014.

The official advert is here:

Further details are below.

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PhD studentship on dune grazing

We are inviting applications for a NERC funded CASE studentship to study the biodiversity, conservation and management of sand dune plant communities. The studentship will cover tuition fees plus an annual (tax exempt) stipend of £14,726, and will start in October 2014.  This project will be funded through the Central England NERC Training Alliance (CENTA), which is one of 15 Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) funded Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTP).

This project will be jointly supervised with Dr. Laurence Jones at the Center for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) in Bangor.

Further details can be found here and below. If you would like to discuss the project informally please do not hesitate to contact Jon Millett (

Also see other PhD opportunities here.

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bog, bog, bog, bog, bog, bog…


I spent 14 days this summer travelling round the UK and Republic of Ireland visiting bogs.  I’m used to field working alone, but I was accompanied by two of our Geography students this year, George Foot and Julia Thompson, who made the experience considerably more pleasant. Continue reading

PhD studentships in Geography

The Department of Geography has secured 2 PhD studentships aligned with Loughborough University’s strategic research investment in ‘Water Resources’ and ‘Autonomous Vehicles’. Applications are now invited from exceptionally well qualified students who wish to embark on a full-time research degree programme commencing in Autumn Term 2013. Continue reading

My papers, distilled.

Wordle of me papers

I really like innovative data presentation. When done well, good data presentation can revolutionise our ability to navigate our way through a data rich world. It can also be beautiful. Harry Beck’s Tube map is so ubiquitous that it’s easy to forget what an excellent example of spatial data visualisation it is. Hans Rosling’s Gapminder graphs really bring data to life.

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Darwin’s “most wonderful plants in the world”.

Drosera figure from Darwin - Insectivorous Plants
Image from Insectivorous Plants (Darwin, 1875). Taken from: The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

I think that it is safe to say that Darwin was fascinated, if not obsessed by carnivorous plants. In a letter to Asa Gray Darwin wrote:

“[Drosera] is a wonderful plant, or rather a most sagacious animal. I will stick up for Drosera to the day of my death.”

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