Scientific Research Project Title

Pollinate-X - Historical and current insights to pollinator decline

Research Institution

Aarhus University

Aarhus University

Research field

Biology

Research leader

Philip Francis Thomsen

Associate Professor

Project title

Pollinate-X - Historical and current insights to pollinator decline

What is your project about?

Wild pollinators such as bees and butterflies have declined dramatically due to loss of habitats and floral resources but investigating historical resource use in pollinators has rarely been attempted. In this project, I will use next-generation DNA sequencing of pollen still attached to museum insect specimens to recreate past pollinator networks and historical shifts in resource use. Next, historical plant records will be used to investigate how plant diversity change may have influenced floral resource use by pollinators and potentially contributed to their decline. Lastly, environmental DNA from contemporary flower samples will be used to investigate the effect of the documented change in floral resources on diverse communities of pollinating insects and their networks.

How did you become interested in your particular field of research?

I have been interested in nature, and in particular insects, since I was a child. While studying biology at the university, my fascination with natural history was supplemented with DNA-based methods to address biological research questions. Together with colleagues, we discovered that DNA from water samples could be used to study community compositions of aquatic ecosystem in both lakes and oceans - the so-called environmental DNA (eDNA) method. Since then, this has become a global research area where environmental samples such as water, soil and flowers are analyzed for DNA from a diversity of organisms for ecological research. The method is also increasingly being applied in biodiversity monitoring. I find it very inspiring to see this field of research evolve so quickly, and I am particularly interested in how the method can help us acquire knowledge about species distributions, which might be used in actions to halt ongoing biodiversity loss.

What are the scientific challenges and perspectives in your project?

The biggest challenges are related to obtaining DNA in sufficient quantity and quality from samples that have been stored in museums for several decades. If this succeeds, however, it is a new means of studying past biological interactions, which can also be applied to many other groups of organisms.

What is your estimate of the impact, which your project may have to society in the long term?

I believe that the methods developed in this project can be used for biomonitoring of insects in the future. In this way, it can help to improve our efforts for species and nature in decline - to the benefit of people interested in biodiversity and the diversity of life.

Which impact do you expect the Sapere Aude programme will have on your career as a researcher?

The Sapere Aude grant is a huge recognition for which I am very grateful, and it will undoubtedly have a major impact on my research career. It allows me to focus on my core interest and on research I truly believe will matter to future generations. I will have the opportunity to hire a postdoc and a PhD and start an interdisciplinary collaboration with leading international researchers.

Background and personal life

I live with my wife and two children. In addition to spending time with my wonderful family and friends, it is especially nature that I spend a lot of time on and in. I will get up early or take a detour on the way home to see a rare bird. The sparse time left is allocated to audiobooks, podcasts and workout.

City of your current residence

Hellerup

High school

Aurehøj Gymnasium