A student at Edge Hill University seeks to discover more about genetic variation in a new species of plant thanks to two research grants she has been awarded.

MRes Biology student Jenn Clayton-Brown, has been awarded grants by both the Natural History Museum’s Botanical Research Fund and the Botanical Society of Great Britain and Ireland’s Scientific Research Fund, which will cover the cost of her Scottish and Norwegian fieldwork.

Jenn’s research project involves looking at the extent of clonal spread of the Saltmarsh Sedge (Carex salina), a species of plant first discovered in the UK just over ten years ago by a team from Edge Hill. Jenn will be sampling at the six Scottish sites it is currently known to inhabit, as well as two further sites in Norway where this species is originally native and much longer established.

“Finding a new species is an exciting event that raises questions about its origin, colonisation routes and duration of presence, and the recent arrival of Carex salina into Britain enables those questions to be addressed,” said Jenn. “Is this occurrence possibly due to dispersal of a single clone to suitable sites via tidal action, or alternatively, do the populations represent multiple colonisation events by different individuals? This research provides an opportunity to answer these questions and will provide an insight into the colonisation of maritime species at a relatively early stage of the process. Its arrival may also reflect climate change changing the vegetation dynamics of salt marshes which allows new species to arrive and be successful.”

Professor Paul Ashton, Head of Biology, has also carried out research into the Saltmarsh sedge.

Professor Paul Ashton

“The evolutionary potential of this group of plants is remarkable,” said Paul. “The project is a unique opportunity to study a species’ route to establishment in a new area.”

Jenn has spent the last four years at Edge Hill, first as a Fastrack student before completing an undergraduate Biology degree, and finally embarking on a Masters.

“During my time at Edge Hill, the staff in the Biology department have always been incredibly welcoming and supportive, especially my supervisor, which has really enhanced my learning experience with the university, and Edge Hill’s beautiful campus and its facilities have only improved,” said Jenn. “I am fortunate enough to be able to work in the new state of the art labs in the Tech Hub, an opportunity not many other universities provide to undergraduates. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Edge Hill over the years and relish the opportunity to work with a fantastic cohort of students, researchers and tutors and the innovative research being accomplished within the department.”

When Jenn has completed her Masters, she hopes to obtain a PhD relating to evolutionary Biology, particularly with regards to sedges, before embarking on a career in research or lecturing.

Click here for more information about Edge Hill’s Biology courses.