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Case study: Professor Scott Armbruster

International Exchange Scheme

Portsmouth University

Plant Diversification and Species Coexistence in Biodiversity Hotspots

Professor Armbruster, Portsmouth University collaborated over 2012-2014 with Professor Huang, Central China Normal University, to gather data helping understand how and why species diversity is so large in certain genera and in certain regions.  Their project aimed to gain insights into how diversification occurs and how so many closely related species coexist.  The chosen study area was the biodiversity hotspot of the Three-Gorges Biosphere reserve region in the mountains of North West Yunnan and South West Sichuan.

What has the fellowship enabled you to do? Have you continued to collaborate, and has this influenced your research plans for the future?
Professor Huang and I have collaborated not only on the research we proposed to conduct, but also on several additional botanical projects in China.  Despite our extensively shared interests, we have complementary abilities and resources, so we plan to continue collaborating in research on floral function and plant diversity into the future. 

What were the research outcomes of the collaboration – what impact will your results have more widely?
We have focussed our research on the role of pollinator sharing and partitioning in speciation and coexistence of closely related species of Pedicularis in the Eastern Himalayan region of South West China, a biodiversity “hotspot”.  Our research results do not fit the expectations of the prevailing paradigm, and they should contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between specialised flowers, reproductive isolation and speciation in plants. 

What have been the wider benefits of taking part in the scheme – both for you and Professor Huang?
The chance for us to work together in the field and spend an extended period comparing science cultures across countries has deepened our understanding of the diversity of approaches to scientific questions (and science funding).  This shared understanding and mutual respect contribute to our desire to continue our collaborations.  The complementary resources are especially valuable: Chinese scientists seem to have more funding for fundamental, curiosity-driven research than most of us enjoy in the UK. Many of them also have access to, and more support for, numerous post-graduate students, all of whom are very highly motivated.  To this partnership I contribute extensive experience with statistical analysis and scientific writing.

Why did you apply for this particular fellowship?
I had long corresponded with Professor Huang, and I knew we had shared interests.  The Royal Society funding was an opportunity to work together in person.  It was also a chance to spend an extended period in the field working on an amazing study system, one with nearly unrivalled local species diversity.  This was a dream system for someone studying the processes of diversification and species coexistence.

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