Ghost lakes and ponds: The role of buried wetland deposits in rare aquatic plant conservation

This project is available from the academic year 2024/25 onwards.

Theme: Past Life & Environments

Primary Supervisor:

Helen Bennion

Geography, UCL

Helen Bennion's Profile Picture

Secondary Supervisor:

Carl Sayer

Geography, UCL

Carl Sayer's Profile Picture

Additional Supervisor(s):
Jan Axmacher (UCL)

Project Description:

Remarkably, it is possible to recover lost wetlands and wetland plant species, including exceptionally rare species, by re-excavating old buried seedbanks, even in arable landscapes where ponds have been buried beneath croplands (so-called “ghostponds” – Alderton et al. 2017) for >150 years. Further, recent years resurrection ecology work at UCL has shown oospores from Characeae (Stoneworts), an important group of aquatic plants, to survive at depth in wetland sediments (germinated from sediment cores) for >1000 years. Thus, buried wetland deposits, as well as offering an excellent window on past species change linked to human disturbance, open up the possibility that rare and even nationally “extinct” species could be returned to the landscape following suitable habitat management.

This PhD will reconstruct the histories of rare wetland plants at strategically important sites from oospore and seed stratigraphies in dated sediment cores, identify the causes of their decline through parallel multi-proxy palaeoecology, and assess their potential to be returned to the landscape via ecological restoration based on germination experiments. Field sites will be locations where rare wetland plants are known for in the past covering NW Scotland and East Anglia, among other destinations.

Policy Impact of Research:

There will be substantial opportunities to help inform the conservation work of UK conservation agencies regarding key UK wetland habitats and species. There is much current media interest in the “ghostponds” field giving the opportunity to have much positive influence in the wetland conservation field.

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