Knowledge for a sustainable world

MA (Cantab), PhD (Lond)

Dr Sarah Arnold joined the University of Greenwich in 2010, after completing her PhD in sensory ecology in the Chittka Lab at Queen Mary, University of London. Her background at Queen Mary and prior to that at the University of Cambridge, was in pollinator behaviour (Dyer et al. 2006, Nature) and the evolution of flower colours (Arnold et al. 2010, PLoS ONE). Dr Arnold investigated trends in the colour composition of flowering plant communities, and the responses of bees to flower colours under variable light conditions, finding that bees show preferences for familiar illuminant types when foraging (Arnold et al. 2012, J Exp Biol).

Since joining the Natural Resources Institute (NRI), Dr Arnold has continued to develop her interest in pollinators, studying the effects of the composition of pollen and nectar (Arnold et al. 2014, J Chem Ecol) on pollinators, their use of odour cues (Arnold et al. in prep) and how environment influences pollinator populations (Arnold et al. 2018, Agr Ecosys Environ). Additionally, she works on the ecology and behaviour of stored product pests, investigating the factors determining how they orient towards food material (Arnold et al. 2012, PLoS ONE; 2015, Bull Ent Res; 2016, Peer J) and the potential of pesticidal plants and other control methods in pre- and post-harvest pest management. Dr Arnold is particularly interested in how the behaviour of storage pests can be affected by their own life history (e.g. age, morph) and interactions between different cue types (colour, odour).

Dr Arnold is a member of NRI's Agriculture, Health & Environment Department, working primarily with the pest behaviour, chemical ecology and ecosystems services research groups. She been lead or co-author on publications about flower colour evolution, insect ecology, and pollinator and storage pest behaviour in international peer-reviewed journals, and is one of the developers and managers of the Floral Reflectance Database.

Dr Arnold is interested in insect behaviour and ecology, in particular the interactions between economically important insects (pests, pollinators, etc.) and their environment and food. Key research questions that interest her include:

  • How do habitats and ecosystems influence abundance and species richness of insects of agricultural importance?
  • How do pests of stored products orient towards host material?
  • How do they respond behaviourally to attractive and repellent cues, including pesticidal plants and other possible control strategies?
  • How do botanical insecticides and pesticidal plants interact with pre- and post-harvest pests and non-target invertebrates such as bees?
  • How do pollinating insects identify food using visual information and other cues, such as the effects of plant appearance or variable illumination on foraging technique?
  • What happens when they find that food: how does the composition of different plants' nectar and pollen affect pollinator preferences and fitness?
  • Ecology of pollinators in the UK and abroad. In particular, how can pollinator populations be supported and safeguarded in different environments?

Natural pest regulation in orphan crop legumes in Africa (NaPROCLA)

This BBSRC GCRF project (2018-2021) follows on from findings in the Darwin project (below) about the importance of field margin plant diversity in supporting healthy populations of natural enemies of key crop pests in legume fields. Dr Arnold’s involvement comprises insect monitoring and sampling elements, and understanding the impact of farm management on the ecology of natural pest regulators such as parasitoid wasps, lady beetles and hoverflies.

Harnessing agricultural biodiversity for increased yield and income generation

This Darwin Initiative funded project (2015-2018) was led by RBG Kew but Dr Arnold was the local (NRI) principle investigator. The project aimed to characterise the importance of plant diversity in supporting insect diversity on bean fields in Tanzania and Malawi, translating this to increased ecosystem services to support productivity and yield. Dr Arnold’s contributions particularly covered insect sampling techniques, evaluation of crop damage and pollination, and data interpretation about plant-insect interrelations. Multiple publications are currently under development.

Innovation for improved strawberry pollination by commercial bumblebees using caffeine

This BBSRC IPA (2017-2019) in association with Berry Gardens Growers Ltd., Biobest Ltd. and NIAB EMR aims to develop the potential for caffeine and an attractant to be used to improve bumblebees’ forage focus on important crops such as strawberries in order to increase yield and fruit quality.

CocoaPOP - Cocoa Pollination for Optimised Production

ACP S&T Programme co-funded, in collaboration with University of Trinidad and Tobago, CABI and Cocoa Industry Board (Jamaica) (2012-2016). This project studied the ecology of cocoa pollinating midges (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae) in the Caribbean, focusing on the diversity of species and the size of populations currently present, how these change over the year, and how they can been increased and safeguarded. The project provided training in insect identification skills to students and researchers in Trinidad and Tobago, and monthly sampling of the insect fauna of cocoa estates allowed the team to characterise populations, distribution and variability of small Diptera in these environments. Publications have covered pollinator populations and environmental influences (Arnold et al. 2018), and also behaviour of cocoa pollinators in responses to odour (manuscript in preparation).

Host orientation behaviour in stored product insects

Dr Arnold has worked on this theme as part of University of Greenwich-funded projects such as Ecology of host seeking behaviour among stored product beetles. The aims of these projects have been to study different elements of how stored product pests orient towards food sources (smallholder farmers' commodity stores) using odour and colour cues, and how pesticidal plants can be optimally deployed to achieve control through physiological and behavioural methods. Dr Arnold's work has focused particularly on the major cereal pests Rhyzopertha dominica, Prostephanus truncatus and Sitophilus zeamais and the legume pest Callosobruchus maculatus. This work has used specialist equipment for investigating insect behaviour including the four-arm olfactometer (Arnold et al. 2012) and the Syntech ServoSphere (Arnold et al. 2016), with key results including the finding that the orientation behaviour of C. maculatus varies depending on age, sex and life history morph (flying versus flightless) and that S. zeamais respond reliably but specifically to certain coloured targets.

Primary supervisor:

  • Judit Linka – Pollination by intoxication – how alkaloids influence pollinator behaviour and ecology
  • Diana Tixi – A ‘real-world’ approach to predicting the impact of land-use policies on pollinators

Secondary supervisor:

  • Kate Denton – The potential of insectivorous bats as agents of crop pest control in the UK
  • Bergamo, P.J., Telles, F.J., Arnold, S.E.J. & Brito, V.L.G. (2018) Flower colour within communities shifts from overdispersed to clustered along an alpine altitudinal gradient. Oecologia. doi: 10.1007/s00442-018-4204-5
  • Arnold S.E.J., Bridgemohan P., Perry G.B., Spinelli G.R., Pierre B., Haughton C., Dockery O., Murray F., Grey L., Murphy S.T., Belmain S.R. & Stevenson P.C. (2018) The significance of climate in the pollinator dynamics of a tropical agroforestry system Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. 254:1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.agee.2017.11.013
  • Arnold S.E.J., Stevenson P.C. & Belmain S.R. (2016) Shades of yellow: interactive effects of visual and odour cues in a pest beetle. PeerJ. 4:e2219 doi: 10.7717/peerj.2219
  • McCarthy E.W., Arnold S.E.J., Chittka, L., Le Comber S.C., Verity R., Dodsworth, S., Knapp S., Kelly L.J., Chase M.W., Baldwin I.T., Kovařík A., Mhiri C., Taylor, L. & Leitch A.R. (2015) The effect of polyploidy and hybridisation on the evolution of floral colour in Nicotiana (Solanaceae). Annals of Botany. 115(7):1117-31. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcv048.
  • Arnold S.E.J., Stevenson P.C. & Belmain S.R. (2015) Responses to colour and host odour cues in three cereal pest species, in the context of ecology and control. Bulletin of Entomological Research. 105(4):417-25. doi: 10.1017/S0007485315000346.
  • Arnold S.E.J., Peralta Idrovo M.E., Lomas Arias L., Belmain S.R. & Stevenson P.C. (2014) Herbivore defence compounds occur in pollen and reduce bumblebee colony fitness. Journal of Chemical Ecology. 40(8):878-81. doi: 10.1007/s10886-014-0467-4.
  • Arnold S.E.J. & Chittka L. (2012) Illumination preference, illumination constancy and colour discrimination by bumblebees in an environment with patchy light. Journal of Experimental Biology. 215(13):2173-2180. doi: 10.1242/jeb.065565
  • Lindh J.M., Parikshit G., Blackburn R.S., Arnold S.E.J., Vale G.A., Lehane M.J. & Torr S.J. (2012) Optimizing the colour and fabric of targets for the control of the tsetse fly Glossina fuscipes fuscipes. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. 6:e1661. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0001661
  • Arnold S.E.J., Stevenson P.C. & Belmain S.R. (2012) Odour-mediated orientation behaviour of a coleopteran pest is influenced by age, sex and morph. PLoS ONE. 7(11):e49071. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0049071.
  • Springate S. & Arnold S.E.J. (2012) New records of ash whitefly Siphoninus phillyreae (Halliday) (Hemiptera: Aleyrodidae) in Kent. British Journal of Entomology and Natural History. 25:215-216.
  • Springate S. & Arnold S.E.J. (2011) New vice-county records of Clitostethus arcuatus (Rossi) (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae) and a new association with wild cabbage. British Journal of Entomology and Natural History. 24:224-5.
  • Arnold S.E.J., Faruq S., Savolainen V., McOwan P.W. & Chittka L. (2010) FReD: The Floral Reflectance Database - a web portal for analyses of flower colour. PLoS ONE. 5(12):e14287. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0014287.
  • Zanne A.E., Westoby M., Falster D.S., Ackerly D.D., Loarie S.R., Arnold S.E.J. & Coomes D.A. (2010) Angiosperm wood structure: Global patterns in vessel anatomy and their relation to wood density and potential conductivity. American Journal of Botany. 97:207-215. doi:10.3732/ajb.0900178.
  • Arnold S.E.J., Le Comber S.C. & Chittka L. (2009) Flower colour phenology in European grassland and woodland habitats, through the eyes of pollinators. Israel Journal of Plant Sciences. 57:211-230.
  • Arnold S.E.J., Savolainen V. & Chittka L. (2009) Flower colours along an alpine altitude gradient, seen through the eyes of fly and bee pollinators. Arthropod-Plant Interactions. 3:27-43.
  • Dyer A.G., Whitney H.M., Arnold S.E.J., Glover B.J. & Chittka L. (2007) Mutations perturbing petal cell shape and anthocyanin synthesis influence bumblebee perception of Antirrhinum majus flower colour. Arthropod-Plant Interactions. 1:45-55.
  • Dyer A.G., Whitney H.M., Arnold S.E.J., Glover B.J. & Chittka L. (2006) Behavioural ecology: bees associate warmth with floral colour. Nature. 442(7102):525. doi: 10.1038/442525a
  • Member of the Royal Entomological Society and South-East Regional Secretary
  • Member of the British Ecological Society
  • Early Career Researcher Excellence Award 2014/15
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