Lena Alice Schmidt

Candidature

PhD Candidate

Thesis title

Selective floral enhancement of native flora for healthy and diverse pollinator populations in Australian agro-ecosystems under climate change

Research

I am a PhD candidate interested in research at the interface of pollination and landscape ecology, as well as global change biology, and how pollinators respond to floral resource availability within disturbed (e.g. burned) or highly transformed (e.g. agriculturally intensified) landscapes. My current project is focused on selective floral enhancement of native flora for healthy and diverse pollinator populations in Australian agro-ecosystems under climate change. I employ a variety of methods from multiple disciplines including large-scale manipulative field and glasshouse experiments exploring the availability and quality of floral resources across different seasons, the impact of climate change manipulations on floral resource quality and attractiveness to pollinators, and factors influencing pollinator choice of foraging plants.

Within agro-ecosystems, large-scale, mass-flowering monocultures associated with many crop species offer wild pollinators only a short-term bountiful floral resource in an otherwise florally depauperate landscape. Outside of this floral window, resources may be scarce, with negative implications for native pollinator populations and consequently pollination services to both native flora and agricultural crops.

Wildflower strips have been shown to support pollinator populations within intensively managed agricultural areas in the Northern Hemisphere. Targeted plantings of locally adapted, native flowering plants can increase floral resources for resident pollinator communities, especially outside of crop flowering times. However, in Australia relatively little is known about the extent to which different pollinator groups exploit and benefit from the floral resources in vegetation adjacent to crops, and how plant species differ in their relative contributions to resource provisioning throughout the year.

This project will provide valuable insights into the efficacy of native floral enhancements in maintaining and supporting pollinator populations in Australian cropping systems, specifically the economically and locally important apple industry. Establishing selected native plant species as on-farm floral enhancements in apple orchards to support wild insect pollinators may reduce dependence on introduced, managed honeybees. The information obtained will help identify Australian native plant species for on-farm floral enhancements that successively flower throughout the year, and which attract a diverse array of native pollinator species. These data will inform decisions for the development of Australian native wildflower seed mixes for use by growers to support healthier pollinator populations in Australian agro-ecosystems.

Supervisors

Professor Sally Power, Dr Amy Gilpin, Dr Paul Rymer, Professor James Cook, Dr Paul Gibson-Roy