Study aims to probe plants' resilience

RHS and University of Sheffield to fund PhD studentship focusing on potential common physiological traits among plants.

A new PhD research project is to start to address which factors confer resilience within an urban or garden landscape species.

A joint initiative between the RHS and the University of Sheffield, the project will focus on determining whether there are any common physiological traits (photosynthetic capacity, resource allocation, regulation of stress hormones, root growth dynamics) that help to confer greater resilience and how determining these traits can help provide guidance on plant selection.

The three-and-a-half-year PhD studentship will be jointly funded by the RHS and the University of Sheffield, starting in September. Sheffield plant science graduate Emma Lewis will be supervised by Dr Ross Cameron, Gareth Phoenix (University of Sheffield) and Paul Alexander (RHS).

The research will develop and test ideas that relate to plant adaptability to repeating or rapidly alternating weather events. It will aim to identify generic effects or trends - for example, testing the notion that true species have greater resilience than some derived cultivars.

A potential enquiry could be to test whether landscape plants already considered robust by the garden sector retain their resilience when exposed to new multiple-stress scenarios, and if so to determine the mechanisms behind this via comparison to more susceptible varieties or species. Determining the appropriate level of resilience may also be important, for example, to ensure those traits that are desirable from a "garden robustness" perspective do not equate to "alien invasiveness".

The study will aim to understand how levels of stress tolerance interrelate with the ability to continue to perform horticulturally and the costs involved - from the plant's perspective - in maintaining these horticultural standards.

Research project Parallel climate studies

The new research will run in parallel with other studies investigating the impact of climate on plant performance and how we garden.

This includes the revised hardiness categories recently introduced by the RHS and the latest initiatives on gardeners' experiences and attitudes to gardening in a changing climate being conducted by the RHS and the University of Reading.

The RHS will also issue a new Gardening in the Global Greenhouse report in October. This will identify research priorities for the future and may cover aspects such as phenology in greater detail and utilising "citizen-science" approaches.

Similarly, the resilience research should complement proposed studies into gardeners' perceptions of what shrub/sub-shrub species could have wider potential use in the future, building on research conducted by Noel Kingsbury at the University of Sheffield.

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