New Research Grant For Gene Flow Modelling In The Cloud Forest

We are delighted to announce that Plant Ecologist at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Alan Gray, has been awarded £2,500 to contribute to the costs of modelling gene flow amongst the endangered endemic plants of St Helena. The grant has been awarded under the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) funded Cloud Forest Project ‘Restoring St Helena’s Internationally Important Cloud Forest for Wildlife, Water Security and People’.

The award has come about because of the competition held earlier in the year aimed at attracting research proposals from international researchers that will help meet the conservation of biodiversity objectives in The Peaks National Park Conservation Management Plan, 2019-2024. The winning entry on the competition was Amy Webster from Birmingham University’s Institute of Forest Research ( and the award went towards supporting Amy’s research in the diseases of the cloud forest trees. The competition judges were also impressed with Alan’s proposal titled ‘Modelling gene flow amongst the endangered endemic plants of St Helena’ and agreed to award a second grant under the second year of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office funded Cloud Forest Project. In awarding the grant, it was anticipated that this would attract a high calibre Master’s student to take on the research and we are pleased to welcome Yiran Wang to the study and to conservation on St Helena.

The research is a modelling exercise that will be carried out by a Master’s student and is collaboration with Kew Gardens and Edinburgh Botanic Garden supported by the Research Institute. The project proposes to construct the first ever pollen gene flow model for St Helena using models similar to those used to model pollution dispersion using a case study of the Diana’s Peak grass (Carex dianae). Gene flow will be estimated by mapping the patterns of seasonal pollen. Distinct physical and genetic differences have been found in Diana’s Peak grass, indicating distinct population differences between plants found in the Diana’s Peak and High Peak areas. Information on pollen gene flow would inform the sustainable conservation management for this species across the different populations. It is anticipated that the model will become an important case study which could be extended to other wind dispersed endemic species that could either be modelled by the student if time allows, or in future project work.

Plant Ecologist at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Alan Gray, commented:

We are really grateful for the award and especially looking forward to getting started with this piece of novel research which will help us understand gene flow across St Helena and help guide conservation management of the endemic flora.”

Coordinator of the St Helena Research Institute, Rebecca Cairns-Wicks, concluded:

“We are really pleased to be able to give support to this research which would not otherwise be possible without the support and funding of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Recent genetic studies have revealed that the physical differences conservationists on the Island had observed between populations of the Diana’s Peak grass exist at a genetic level. This is important to know because it will help inform how the populations are managed. This new research will add another new dimension to our understanding, if we know how pollen and in effect ‘genes’ move this will enable conservationists to further refine their management plans for the conservation of the Peak grass. As a case study the model has the potential to be extended to other species offering us a truly ground-breaking tool for conservation management.”

St Helena Research Institute (SHRI)

SHRI is a collaborative organisation founded in St Helena that supports research and opportunities for learning, promotes, collaborates and conducts research on the Island.

Coordinator, Rebecca Cairns-Wicks

Tel: + (290) 22607 Ext No: 223

UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH)

UKCEH is an independent, not-for-profit research institute. The UKCEH’s 500 scientists provide the data and insights that researchers, governments and businesses need to create a productive, resilient and healthy environment.

Plant Ecologist, Alan Gray



St Helena Research Institute

2 June 2022

St Helena Government Communications Hub

Telephone: 22470