The Open University
Sexually deceptive orchid pollination strategies: is one true love or broad sex appeal best?
Dr J. Cooke, Prof. C. Turner and Prof. D Gowing
This PhD project examines the success of sexually-deceptive pollination strategies in the bee orchids (Ophrys spp.). Many Ophrys orchids achieve pollination by tricking male insects into visiting their flowers by mimicking the appearance and scent of a female insect; the male insects visit the flowers in an attempt to mate, and thus spread pollen between the flowers as they are tricked repeatedly. The Ophrys genus is particularly fascinating because of the variation in pollination strategies across species. For example, some Ophrys species closely resemble only one pollinator, while others imperfectly mimic multiple insect species and attract a wider range of pollinators. Additionally, with some of the pollinator species absent in the UK, we have a unique opportunity to study these strategies by comparing Ophrys species and populations from across the UK and Europe.
What inspires you
My fascination with nature grew out of a lifelong love of insects, starting with catching ants and mantises in my garden, and rearing silk moths in my bedroom as a child. I have kept this interest alive throughout my academic and professional career… and I still have arthropods in my bedroom.
I completed an Access to Higher Education Diploma in Science at South East Essex College, before embarking on my BA in Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge. Following this, I knew I wanted to continue my work with wildlife, and spent a while teaching animal care and sciences at Capel Manor College in London. But academia continued to call and I answered by completing an MSc in Entomology at Harper Adams University, before being offered a CENTA Open University Doctoral Studentship to investigate bee orchid pollination strategies.
Why did you choose doctoral research?
I have developed a great love of research through previous projects completed as part of my undergraduate and postgraduate studies. I am passionate about continuing to develop my research skills, while contributing to the collective knowledge of the scientific community.
Why did you choose CENTA?
A CENTA studentship gives doctoral candidates the opportunity to connect with researchers from a range of different universities and organisations. This network is valuable in furthering scientific collaboration and knowledge. Additionally, CENTA gives early-career researchers greater opportunities for training and developing skills that will not only be beneficial to their PhD projects, but also in their future careers.
My love of the natural world and research has been a great motivator in my life. Although I am keeping an open-mind about future opportunities, I envisage that I will continue my research career through postdoctoral work, or perhaps embark on a career in science writing. Whatever path I choose, the skills and experience that a PhD will grant me will be indispensable to my future prospects.