Our research covers a variety of topics centred around ecology, conservation and sustainable agriculture. Some past and current research areas are highlighted below, and we hope to add new ones in the future!
Organisms do not act in isolation, but form ecological communities which can be of huge complexity. We are only beginning to understand how interactions within ecological communities are structured, and plant-pollinator communities provide a useful model system. We are interested in how land management and human alteration can affect the structure of these interactions that ultimately provide pollination services. We are also interested in how diverse plant-pollinator communities in South African grasslands are structured, and how specialisation of these communities compares globally.
A vast proportion of the earths land area is devoted to agriculture, including 64% of the Irish landscape. However, agriculture often depends on biodiversity to perform vital ecosystem services such as pest control, water provision, soil formation and pollination. We are interested in the diversity of plants and insects found in agroecosystems, the importance of field margins and hedgerows as refuges for biodiversity, agri-environment schemes, the impacts of changes in agricultural management (such as the growth of bioenergy crops and use of pesticides) on biodiversity, mass flowering crops and their interactions with insects, and how landscape composition and structure can affect biodiversity. We are also investigating how results based agri-environment schemes can be beneficial for both plants and pollination insects. Some representative publications include: Stanley et al. 2013 J App Ecol; Stanley et al 2013, Plos One; Stanley et al 2014 Plant Ecol.
Pesticides and beneficial insects
Insecticide pesticides are applied to crops to protect them from insect pests. However, at the same time beneficial insects, such as bees, can come into contact with these compounds when foraging on, and pollinating, many crops. Neonicotinoid pesticides act on regions of the insect brain associated with learning and memory. We are interested in how exposure to field realistic levels of pesticide can impact bee behaviour and delivery of pollination services (Stanley et al. 2015 Scientific Reports; Stanley et al. 2015 Nature; Stanley et al. 2016 Func Ecol). We are also interested in the sustainable use of pesticides, and in finding ways that their non-target effects can be mitigated against.
Plant reproductive biology
85% of all flowering plants require some degree of biotic pollination to reproduce. This has resulted in a huge diversity of floral forms, most likely adapted for various associations with pollinators. We are interested in how floral colour change can influence pollination and what flower visitors are effective pollinators of various crops and wild plants (e.g. Willmer et al 2008, Stanley et al. 2014 Plant Ecol, Stanley et al. 2013 J Ins Cons)
Approximately 1/3 of the food we eat comes from crops that benefit from insect pollination. This figure disproportionately includes crops of high value and nutritional content; it would be difficult for humans to have a balanced diet without pollinators. We are interested the importance of different pollinator groups to crop pollination, and factors that can influence the delivery of these services (Stanley et al. 2015 Nature; Stanley et al. 2014 J Ins Cons)
Some current projects
Cocoa and biodiversity: Interactions between pollinators, cocoa production and rural livelihoods in Ghana (Richard Boakye PhD 2019-2023; funded by Irish Research Council)
Pollinators and pollination in subtropical Africa: evaluating their importance for woodland habitats and sustainable livelihoods through the provision of forest products (Christine Coppinger PhD 2019-2023; funded by Irish Research Council)
Informing monitoring and conservation of pollinators and pollination services in species-rich grasslands (Michelle Larkin PhD 2016 - 2020; funded by NUI Galway and Irish Research Council)
Brilliant Bees: The importance of managed and wild pollinators to Irish natural capital (Katie Burns PhD 2017 - 2021; funded by NUI Galway, Irish Research Council and Eva Crane Trust)
SUSPOLL: Sustainable pollination in a changing world (2018-2022; Career Development Award funded by Science Foundation Ireland. Dara Stanley, Alison O'Reilly, Arrian Karbassioon)
PROTECTS: Protecting terrestrial ecosystems through sustainable pesticide use (2018-2022; funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Dara Stanley, Linzi Thompson and Aoife Delaney with partners at MU, DCU, TCD and Teagasc)
Eva Crane Trust pollen reference collection (2016 - 2019; funded by Eva Crane Trust)
Developing results based agri-environment schemes: is there potential for pollinators? (2017 - 2018; funded by the British Ecological Society)
Creating materials for biodiversity awareness on campus (2017 - 2018; funded by NUI Galway Sustainability Initiative, Galway Green Leaf and the Ryan Institute)