Knowledge for a sustainable world

BSc., PhD., FRES.
Professor Philip C Stevenson
Professor of Plant Chemistry and Head of Chemical Ecology and Plant Biochemistry Group

Agriculture, Health and Environment Department

Natural Resources Institute, Faculty of Engineering & Science

+44 (0)1634 88 3212

P.C.Stevenson@gre.ac.uk

Phil Stevenson is Professor of Plant Chemistry at the Natural Resources Institute within the University of Greenwich where he is Head of the Chemical Ecology research group. He also holds a dual position as a NERC Merit researcher and Senior Research Leader of Chemical Ecology at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Phil’s research has focussed on the biological and ecological role of plant chemicals and understanding how these compounds can be used to support sustainable agriculture. This work includes research on pollen and nectar chemistry to determine their role in pollinator behaviour and health and behavioural ecology, natural pest resistance in crops to identify breeding traits and the optimisation of pesticidal plants (botanical insecticides) as benign and affordable alternatives to synthetic insecticides. Phil has led major research and development projects won through competitive bids to programmes including: DFID, BBSRC, DEFRA, McKnight Foundation, European Union (ACP Science and Technology programmes), USDA and NSF (USA). Other smaller grants have been won competitively through the Science Foundation of Ireland, Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Millennium Science Foundation (Uganda) and DFID's competitive research facility. The projects have funded research activities, training and capacity building activities and agricultural development. This research has been published in 150 international journal articles, books and books chapters including recent papers in Science, Current Biology, Journal of Ecology, Biology Letters, Scientific Reports and Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment and Functional Ecology.

His international scientific role is represented through positions on the editorial boards of journals including Subject Editor at the Bulletin of Entomological Research, Regional Editor of Biopesticides International and the Editorial board of Crop Protection and People, Plants Planet. He is a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society and Member of the British Ecological Society.

Phil’s research interests lie in the opportunities to exploit plant chemicals to improve and enhance agriculture and agroecosystems in environmentally benign ways.  These include understanding the chemical basis of resistance mechanisms in crops to insects and diseases and exploiting natural insecticidal compounds in plants that can replace synthetic and ecologically damaging pesticides for small holder farmers in developing countries – e.g. botanical insecticides and pesticidal plants

I am increasingly interested in the role plant chemicals play in the interactions between plants and insects – particularly pollinators. This work has a huge potential impact in understanding more about the role of natural products in bee food that might influence pollinator susceptibility to major constraints such as pathogens and parasites and also learning more about how nutritional homeostasis in bees influences their ability to respond to stress.

My inaugural lecture was on the topic of 'Sex and Drugs and Pest Control: The Ecology and Application of Plant Chemistry' and was given on Wednesday, 11 June 2014.
The lecture can be viewed at http://youtu.be/5vrqaJpkjkw  and my TEDx lecture can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKiJphdczV4

Combination Biopesticides - Transforming Pest Control in Chinese and UK Agriculture

Donor: BBSRC-Innovate UK (Newton UK-China)
Value: Approx. £400K
Partners: AgroPty Ltd (UK), Fujian Agricultural and Forestry University, Jiangxi Tian-Ren Ltd.
Dates: 2019-2021

Environmentally benign fungal pathogens and insecticidal plant extracts could offer a sustainable alternative to synthetic chemical pesticides. Fungal control does not have many of the problems associated with conventional control such as pest resistance, toxicity to humans and persistence in the environment. One downside to such a technology is that it can be slow acting to achieve effective control. The aim of this project is to create a formulation combining fungal pathogens with the pesticidal plant extracts to create effective pest control with two non-synthetic control agents. This solution will be applicable in developing countries such as China where the materials can be locally produced. Creating a new product with these technologies may confer additional benefits as the modes of action may work in synergy to achieve greater pest control with less material required. Additional benefits to using these biopesticides would be the stimulation the growth of this market, provision of safer working conditions, creating job opportunities and allowing local growers to receive a greater return for their produce by conforming to EU regulations on pesticide use. We anticipate that this will have considerable benefits for the ecosystems in which they are applied due to reduced impacts on non-target insects such as pollinators.

Innovation for Improved Strawberry Pollination by Commercial Bumblebees Using Caffeine

Donor: BBSRC-IPA
Value: Approx. £280K
Partners: NIAB-EMR, Berry Gardens, Biobest Ltd.
Dates: 2017-2019

Efficient pollination by insects, especially bees, is critical to ensuring food security and yields of many crops. Production of soft fruit such as strawberries in the UK is worth around £360m annually, is growing year on year but depends heavily upon pollination by insects, particularly bees. When pollination is inadequate it frequently results in misshapen fruit. Strawberry growers rely heavily on commercial bumblebees to improve pollination, but this is not always sufficient. This project investigated whether it is possible to prime managed bumblebees on strawberry farms to forage more efficiently on the flowers of the crop, in order to pollinate them more effectively. Since caffeine improves bees' memory for the scents of flowers, the project is testing whether these bees show increased foraging activity and attraction to strawberry flowers when they receive this priming treatment.

NaPROCLA - Natural Pest Regulation in Orphan Crop Legumes in Africa

Donor: BBSRC GCRF SASSA Initiative
Value: Approx. £1 million
Partners: NRI, NM-AIST, LUANAR, Egerton University, Charles Sturt University advising
Dates: 2018-2021

Pest damage of legumes is one of the major challenges to food and nutritional security in Africa and disproportionately affects poor farmers growing low-input orphan crop grain legumes such as beans, pigeon pea, cowpea and lablab. Pest control is typically dependent on high agrochemical inputs which may have negative impacts on users and consumers and severely impact non-target invertebrates that can otherwise be beneficial to food production through pollination or natural pest regulation. Natural Pest Regulation has been estimated to be worth US$906 billion. Non-crop habitats in field margins provide the environment required to support natural enemies of pests including hoverflies. Management or manipulation of this non-crop habitat can help to support natural pest regulation and can even be augmented and sustained in better managed natural or manipulated agro-ecosystems. The occurrence, density and impacts of most beneficial insects in smallholder ecosystems, however, are poorly understood, particularly in Africa.

Optimising Pesticidal Plants

Donor: ACP S&T (European Commission)
Value: Approx. €1 million
Partners: NRI, Egerton University, Mzuzu University, Zimbabwe University, Sokoine University, Sustainable Global Gardens

Dates: 2014-2018

Optimising Pesticidal Plants Technology Innovation, Outreach and Networks (OPTIONs) project is a project (Value Euros 1,000K) funded by the European Union Africa Caribbean and Pacific Groups of States Science and technology Programme 2014-2018 to research ways to optimise the improved use and uptake of pesticidal plants as pest management alternatives for small holder farmers in sub Saharan Africa. The project will develop strategies to increase accessibility to plant materials through propagation and elite provenance selection based on chemical analysis and biological study to ensure that promotion of the technology is sustainable, reliable and effective

Cocoa Pollination Optimisation for Production – CocoaPOP

Donor: ACP S&T (European Commission)
Value: Approx. €570K
Partners: NRI, University of Trinidad and Tobago, CABI, Cocoa Industry Board (Jamaica)

Dates: 2012-2016

The Cocoa Pollination for Optimised Production project was a research project co-funded by the European Development Fund through the ACP Caribbean & Pacific Research Programme for Sustainable Development, a programme implemented by the ACP Group of States. 

CocoaPOP was a collaboration between institutions in Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica and the United Kingdom with an objective of supporting research and capacity building on methods that improve yields of cocoa through improving pollination services.  Higher yields will mean more cocoa can be produced from less land, reducing the need to expand plantations, protection biodiversity whilst raising farmer's incomes.

Bee medicine

This project is in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts and Dartmouth College in USA and aims to determine how plant chemical sin the nectar and pollen of agricultural crops influence pollinators ability to cope with diseases including Nosema and Crithidia. This project will work closely alongside a National Science Foundation grant won by Phil at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew with the same partners and together will determine which flowering species impact positively or negatively on bees and potentially alleviate or exacerbate pollinator declines and colony collapses. The overall premise is that plant chemical could provide protection against disease or where toxic could weaken pollinators and make them more susceptible to the effects of disease.

Future areas of research will probably focus more on the pollinators as the potential global impact of this work is huge in terms of enhancing pollinator health and providing important impacts at landscape levels. Stevenson's recent research published in Science and Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment indicate the height of interest in this area of research.

  • Arran Folly – Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Caroloine Faessler – University of Oxford.
  • Elisante Philemon- Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology
  • Prisila Mkenda - Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology
  • Angela Mkindi - Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology
  • Balthazar Ndakidemi - Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology

2019

  • Simmonds, M.S.J., Stevenson P.C., Hanson, F. (2019) Rosmarinic acid in Canna generalis activates the medial deterrent chemosensory neurone and deters feeding in the tobacco hornworm, Manduca sexta. Physiological Entomology (in press).
  • Palmer-Young, E., Egan, P., Farrell, I., Adler, L.S., Irwin, R.E., Stevenson, P.C. (2019) Secondary metabolites from nectar and pollen: a resource for ecological and evolutionary studies, Ecology (in press).
  • Palmer-Young, E., Egan, P., Farrell, I., Adler, L.S., Irwin, R.E., Stevenson, P.C. (2019) Chemistry of floral rewards: intra- and interspecific variability of nectar and pollen secondary metabolites across taxa, Ecological Monographs, 89, e01335.

2018

  • Rothchild, K.W., Adler, L.S., Irwin, R.E., Sadd, B.M., Stevenson, P.C., Palmer-Young, E.C. (2018) Effects of short-term exposure to naturally occurring thymol concentrations on transmission of a bumble bee parasite. Ecological Entomology, 43, 567-577.
  • Egan, P., Adler, L.S., Irwin, R.E., Farrel, I.W., Palmer-young, E., Stevenson P.C.
  • 2018. Crop Domestication Alters Floral Reward Chemistry with Potential Consequences for Pollinator Health Frontiers in Plant Science. 9, 1357.
  • Adler, L.S., Ellner, S.P., McArt, S.H., Stevenson, P.C., Irwin, R.E. 2018 Diseases where you dine: Plant species and floral traits associated with pathogen transmission in bumble bees. Ecology, 99, 2535-2545
  • Tembo, Y., Mkindi, A., Mkenda, P., Mpumi, Mwanauta, R., Stevenson P.C., Ndakidemi, P. Belmain S.R, 2018) Pesticidal Plant Extracts Improve Yield and Reduce Insect Pests on Legume Crops without Harming Beneficial Arthropods. Frontiers in Plant Science, 9, 1425.
  • Stevenson, P.C., Farrell, I., Green P.W.C., Mvumi, B., Brankin A., Belmain, S.R. Novel Agmatine Derivatives in Maerua edulis With Bioactivity Against Callosobruchus maculatus, a Cosmopolitan Storage Insect Pest. Frontiers in Plant Science, 9, 1506.
  • Amoabeng, B.W., Stevenson, P.C., Pandey, S., Mochiah, M.B. & Gurr, G.M. (2018). Insecticidal activity of a native Australian tobacco, Nicotiana megalosiphon Van Heurck & Muell. Arg. (Solanales: Solanaceae) against key insect pests of brassicas. Crop Protection 106: 6–12.
  • Arnold, S.E.J., Perry, G.B., Spinelli, G.R., Pierre, B., Murray, F., Haughton, C., Dockery, O., 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.
  • Head of Chemical Ecology Research Group
  • NERC Individual Merit Researchers (IMP3)
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