Susmita Aown

I joined the REED committee as the new vice-chair to contribute to REED community and help others get over difficult times and ensure that they reach their goals and dreams.

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Vice ChairPlant-insect interactions, Integrated Pest Management, Sustainable Food production, Plant-pollinator interactions, Grassland ecosystems

I am a Biology PhD student at the University of Sussex and NIAB, East Malling. My PhD research is investigating the feeding behaviour of Philaenus spumarius Meadow spittlebug, which vectors the plant pathogen Xylella fastidiosa. Xylella fastidiosa has not yet been found in the UK, however, it is highly likely that the bacterium might enter the UK from Europe, where it is a very costly crop pest. My research is aiming to establish the host plant preference of P. spumarius in lavender and grapevine cultivars in Southern England.

I studied my undergraduate degree at the University of Northampton, and master’s at Anglia Ruskin University. My passion is in grassland ecosystems and insects. My interest in grasslands, especially calcareous grasslands, developed while I was working as a Volunteer Officer at the Wildlife Trust BCN in at Lings Office in Northampton during the summer of 2018. I then worked on an undergraduate project that investigated plant species richness and dynamics of plant composition in abandoned quarries in Northamptonshire using historical plant data from Northamptonshire Natural History Society.

After graduating with a BSc. in Biology, I worked as a Field Research Assistant at the University of Northampton, where I learned more about different insect pollinators, and their interactions with plants. I then went on to improve my knowledge and research skills in plant-pollinator interactions through my master’s project with Dr Thomas Ings at Anglia Ruskin. I investigated which plant traits and bee traits affect the plants that bees visit for collecting nectar and pollen in UK farmlands.

After finishing my MSc. in 2020, I worked as a Research Assistant at the Conservation Evidence, helping a PhD student at University of Cambridge to gather and wrangle GIS data. I spent the summer of 2021 as a Volunteer Reseacher at the Butterfly Conservation, mainly doing transect walk at the Salcey Forest in Northampton. I recorded butterflies in Salcey Forest for the UK Butterfly Monitoring System.

Before beginning my PhD, I worked on plant-pollinator systems, so I was naturally attracted to plant-pollinator projects. Though, my initial interest and quest was to understand insect herbivores. With a quirk of fate, I was offered a PhD in plant-insect herbivore interactions, which fulfilled my original interest!

I initially joined REED Ecological Network to find a community of people who I would feel safe with and share my concerns. I came to the UK from India to follow my dreams to become an Ecologist. I was doing my master’s and looking a for a funded PhD studentship during the covid pandemic. It was a rough time in my academic career and being part of REED community help me reach the other side. I joined the REED committee as the new vice-chair to contribute to REED community and help others get over difficult times and ensure that they reach the goals and dreams they dreamt. I want to share resources and personal experience to ensure that others can be happy in working towards their goals and have a career in Ecology. I want to be there for people in need as the REED community was when I needed support.