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Department of Plant Sciences



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


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.


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.

Teaching and Supervisions

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.

Postgraduate student
Ms Flora  Donald

Contact Details

Email address: 
Department of Plant Sciences,
University of Cambridge,
Downing Street,
01491 692268 / 01223 748957