by Ed Tripp, University of Nottingham
The Thesis Begins
By May I was well into the second year of my project. The ultimate aims of a PhD are to produce new science, perhaps publish the data, and to produce a thesis for me to defend in a room full of experts at the end of the three years. The thesis will be a huge body of work, so it's best to start it earlier rather than later.
So May started off with a supervisory meeting to plan a month full of data analysis and thesis writing. By the beginning of June the methods and results sections for two thesis chapters (the soil and vegetation studies) had been drafted and approved. I also found time to write a manuscript for the Lundy Field Society Journal, summarising the work I did on the island.
As soon as that was finished I was straight into planning the next phase of the project. Lichens!!
Lichens are extremely sensitive to environmental pollution. We all know that pollution is a problem at the moment, but the sources of that pollution are changing all the time. Nitrogen pollution is becoming more problematic due to more intensive agriculture, but a reduction in fossil fuel usage, such as coal, means that sulphur pollution is much less of a problem than it used to be. Lichens are responding to this, and as a result some are expanding their ranges within heathlands.
I chose to investigate the reindeer lichen Cladonia portentosa. I will use DNA analysis to determine whether the expansion of this lichen is due to lichens coming into heathland patches from elsewhere, or because the lichen that is already present is simply spreading within the patch. So, firstly I need to collect some lichens from various heathlands around the East Midlands.
By mid-June this process had already begun. What I will actually do with the lichens will be discussed in part 3...