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Ms Flora Donald

Postgraduate Student
Ms Flora Donald
Department of Plant Sciences
University of Cambridge
Downing Street

Cambridge CB2 3EA
Office Phone: 01491 692268 / 01223 748957


Before starting my PhD in 2017, I worked as an Operations Officer for Scottish Natural Heritage (2012-2016) covering Uist, Barra and St Kilda. These islands boast diverse natural history, including important populations of breeding and wintering waders, a variety of machair habitats, freshwater lochs spanning different nutrient and pH gradients, intricate coastal geomorphology and impressive geological features. As such I covered a broad range of topics from providing management advice for a whole range of sites designated under national and european legislation, advising on proposals for planning and development, evaluating agri-environment scheme applications, liaising with crofting communities over wildlife conflicts (particularly greylag and barnacle goose conflicts as well as white-tailed sea eagles), monitoring and reporting of designated site condition, managing survey contracts and carrying out surveys for a broad range of features from machair and breeding waders to lagoon cockles and off-shore seabird colonies.

M.Sc. Biodiversity & Taxonomy of Plants (Distinction), University of Edinburgh & Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 2011-2012

B.Sc. (1st Class Hons) Plant Biology, University of Aberdeen 2008-2011

Research Interests

The aim of my PhD research is to model the impact of an oomycete pathogen, Phytophthora austrocedri, on UK native juniper (Juniperus communis). Juniper is one of few trees native to the UK and is recognised as an important species for biodviersity as it supports large numbers of birds, insects and fungi. Since its discovery in the UK in 2012, many juniper populations are now known to be infected by a pathogenic water mould called Phytophthora austrocedri, first described in 2007 in Argentina. So far, the UK is the only other country where the pathogen is known to infect wild populations of trees in the cypress family. Using a combination of spatially explicit, statistical and epidemiological modelling techniques, I aim to identify juniper populations at lower risk from infection to help target effective measures for juniper conservation. I am investigating how topography, climate, hydrology and community structure favour juniper population persistence and interface with the establishment of the disease at both field and regional scales.

Research Supervision

This work is supervised by Beth Purse at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), Nik Cunniffe & Chris Gilligan (University of Cambridge), Kate Searle (CEH) and Sarah Green (Forest Research). As such, I rotate between three locations: CEH Wallingford, University of Cambridge Plant Science Dept, Forest Research Northern Research Station near Edinburgh. 

This PhD is funded by the Scottish Forestry Trust, Scottish Forestry, Forest Research, Scottish Natural Heritage (NatureScot), UKCEH and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and is registered at the University of Cambridge Plant Science Department.

Other Professional Activities

I completed a six week intermission in Sept & Oct 2018 to carry out a secondment at CNR-IPSP & CIHEAM Bari in Italy funded by Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research and Innovation Staff Exchange to learn about Xylella fastidiosa detection, epidemiology and control measures as part of the EU Horizon 2020 CureXF project.

I am an active member of the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland and have contributed to Atlas 2020 recording weeks in the Outer Hebrides as well as Merioneth, Shetland, Mayo, Kerry and Cumbria, though I'm currently concentrating recording effort in my home county VC105 West Ross. I am interested in biological recording more generally too.

Key Publications

Donald, F., Green, S., Searle, K., Cunniffe, N.J., Purse, B. V, 2020. Small scale variability in soil moisture drives infection of vulnerable juniper populations by invasive forest pathogen. For. Ecol. Manage. 473.

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The Department has carried out a comprehensive COVID-19 risk assessment process and has opened to allow research work to take place. To ensure the safety of our staff, a range of measures to reduce building occupancy and allow strict social distancing have been introduced, including increased cleaning and hygiene regimes. We are currently not accepting visitors so please continue to contact us by email until further notice.