Summer is the time of year for fieldwork. FUNgreen project partners are now hard at work carrying out the second stages of our various field campaigns. There is a lot to be done across a range of research topics, so 2018 will be a busy time for everyone involved with the project.
Across our study landscapes in Belgium, Germany and Sweden we are carrying out inventories of plant species within different types of "green infrastructure". These landscape features, such as road verges, hedgerows and forest edges, could act as links between semi-natural grasslands and allow plants to move across landscapes. By recording where plants are found, we are hoping to investigate how suitable these habitats are for different species, and whether their presence and location within the landscape affects plant and pollinator diversity. Collecting data at a large number of locations will also help to model the way in which different plant species disperse through the landscape around semi-natural grasslands.
Alongside this, fieldwork is currently underway as part of our second work package, to investigate how pollinating insects and seed dispersal contribute to connectivity in plant communities. Diverse pollinator networks are thought to help plants produce a larger number of offspring. Experiments have been set up in focal grasslands to measure the impact of pollinators on seed production in a number of study species. Several flowers have been marked at each site, and the seeds which they produce will be collected, counted and checked for viability later in the year. Fieldworkers will also count pollinating insects found in our study grasslands, and note the flowers that species most often visit.
In addition to this, experiments are being carried out to investigate how seeds stick to the fur of grazing animals, and how the shape and specialised characteristics of those seeds might help them stay attached for longer (and be transported further through the landscape). A different project is looking at the soil conditions in midfield islets and semi-natural grasslands, and how these relate to plant species composition. Meanwhile back in the lab, the genetic material collected in 2017 is being processed, with the data due to become available for analysis in the autumn. We have also finished digitising historical aerial photographs for the study areas, which we can now use to quantify changes that have occurred within landscapes over recent decades.
Although we are outside of the field season, FUNgreen has been moving forward over the winter months. We have been hard at work processing and analysing the data collected in 2017. FUNgreen partners also recently got together for a project meeting in Stockholm, to discuss progress in the various work areas and plan fieldwork for 2018. The two days of discussions provided lots of interesting ideas. Amongst several other things, we will be investigating plant species distributions in the wider landscape, carrying out censuses of pollinating insects in grasslands, and performing field experiments to see how well different sorts of seeds attach to the coats of grazing animals. Plans for this are now well underway, and everything should be ready to go once summer arrives.
Another important task has been using aerial photographs to characterise the current landscapes around our study grasslands. These detailed maps of different habitat types will help us to estimate levels of green infrastructure found in landscapes, and how this contributes to functional connectivity and plant biodiversity. This is now complete for all areas, and we are moving on to historical aerial photographs. By mapping landscapes both in the present day and in the past we hope to be able to measure land use change, and investigate how the history of semi-natural grasslands and green infrastructure habitats affects the biodiversity and other services these ecosystems provide.
Things have been busy over the last few months, with field work for all four work packages carried out across three countries. Our main priorities for 2017 were to complete the genetic sampling and begin the plant species inventories of focal grasslands. In addition, we have also been investigating pollinator networks and preparing for some of next years plant surveys too.
Over the course of the summer, genetic material was collected at over 2000 points within study landscapes. Many of these were located within focal semi-natural grasslands, but samples were also taken from road verges, hedgerows and other green infrastructure elements in the surrounding areas. This plant material, collected from our two study species, Galium verum and Campanula rotundifolia, will now be processed in the lab over the coming weeks. We hope to use the resulting information on the way that genetic diversity and individual relatedness change as you move further from semi-natural grasslands to investigate the way green infrastructure and functional connectivity help plant species to disperse.
Full plant species inventories were carried out across a large proportion of our focal semi-natural grasslands, with a small number remaining to be completed next summer. This will provide detailed information on the plant species composition and richness within grasslands, in landscapes that are supported by different levels of green infrastructure. We also performed a successful short pilot of the inventories of green infrastructure which will be a major part of work in 2018. The results of this test run will be extremely valuable in designing next year's plan of action.
Alongside this, a Postdoc from our partner institute in Spain was hard at work in the Swedish grasslands, gathering data on plant-pollinator interactions. Luckily the weather mostly stayed dry and calm, allowing plenty of opportunities to observe pollinating insects within our study sites. This is just the first part of this fieldwork, which will also continue next year in other countries. The focus for the coming winter will now shift to beginning to analyse the data we have collected so far, and to working with historical maps and aerial photographs to determine the history of grassland habitats in these regions.
Time for a summer update on the various activities within FUNgreen over recent months. Discussions on site selection, field sampling protocols and project design have been ongoing throughout the spring, with work packages developing exciting analyses to investigate our different processes of interest. Appointments have been made for a number of important positions across the study regions, and we welcome all of these people to the FUNgreen team. Although the dry weather in some regions has delayed progress slightly, the first field sampling is due to begin in the coming weeks.
With this in mind, a number of project partners paid a visit to our field sites in Belgium. This meeting allowed us to introduce everyone to the different landscapes involved in the study, and to ensure that our goals remain consistent and achievable in the varying regions. Lots of productive discussions were had, particularly around differences in what habitats constitute useful "Green Infrastructure" in landscapes. Hopefully this is something that our project can answer in the future!
FUNgreen partners met in Leuven, Belgium to discuss the management of the project and upcoming fieldwork. With 36 field sites in 3 countries and spring rapidly approaching this was an urgent priority. Progress was made in determining future fieldwork methods and focal species for genetic analyses. Criteria for study sites were also decided on and a deadline was set for the end of March for site selection, in order to be ready for fieldwork to begin in earnest once the weather warms up.