Professor Philip C Stevenson
Agriculture, Health and Environment DepartmentNatural Resources Institute, Faculty of Engineering & Science
+44 (0)1634 88 3212
Phil Stevenson is Professor of Plant Chemistry at the Natural Resources Institute within the University of Greenwich where he is Head of the Chemical Ecology research group. He also holds a dual position as a NERC Merit researcher and Senior Research Leader of Biological Chemistry and In Vitro Research at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Phil’s research has focussed on the biological and ecological role of plant chemicals and understanding how these compounds can be used to support sustainable agriculture. This work includes research on pollen and nectar chemistry to determine their role in pollinator behaviour and health and behavioural ecology, natural pest resistance in crops to identify breeding traits and the optimisation of pesticidal plants (botanical insecticides) as environmentally benign and affordable alternatives to synthetic insecticides. Phil has led major research and development projects won through competitive bids to programmes including: Innovate UK, Newton, DFID, BBSRC, DEFRA, McKnight Foundation, European Union (ACP Science and Technology programmes), USDA and NSF (USA). Other smaller grants have been won competitively through the Science Foundation of Ireland, Higher Education Funding Council for England, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Millennium Science Foundation (Uganda). Phil’s research has been published in more than 150 international journal articles, books and books chapters including recent papers in Science, Current Biology, Ecological Monographs, Journal of Ecology, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment and Functional Ecology.
His international scientific role is represented through positions on the editorial boards of journals including Subject Editor at the Bulletin of Entomological Research, Regional Editor of Biopesticides International and the Editorial board of Crop Protection and People, Plants Planet. He is a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society and Member of the British Ecological Society
Phil’s research interests lie in the opportunities to exploit plant chemicals to improve and enhance agriculture and agroecosystems sustainably. These include understanding the chemical basis of resistance mechanisms in crops to insects and diseases and exploiting natural insecticidal compounds in plants that can replace synthetic and ecologically damaging pesticides for small holder farmers in developing countries – e.g. botanical insecticides and pesticidal plants. Phil is also interested in the role plant chemicals play in the interactions between plants and insects – particularly pollinators. This work has a huge potential impact in understanding more about the role of natural products in bee food that might influence pollinator susceptibility to major constraints such as pathogens and parasites and also learning more about how nutritional homeostasis in bees influences their ability to respond to stress.
My inaugural lecture was on the topic of 'Sex and Drugs and Pest Control: The Ecology and Application of Plant Chemistry' and was given on Wednesday, 11 June 2014. The lecture can be viewed at http://youtu.be/5vrqaJpkjkw
Phil’s TEDx talk can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKiJphdczV4
Pyrethrum in Bloom: Bringing Back the Power of Pyrethrum to Enhance Livelihoods of Smallholders in Kenya
Donor: Innovate UK (Agritech Catalyst)
Value: Approx. £800K (90K retained)
Partners: Egerton University, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, BioExtractions (Wales), JatFLora (Kenya), Growtech Nurseries (Kenya)
Pyrethrum, (Tanacetum cinerariifolium), is a plant-based pesticide. For almost 60 years, Kenya was the largest source of pyrethrum traded in the world but no falls way behind other global producers. The return of Kenya into the mainstream global pyrethrum trade will increase supply and return the world on an organic pesticide path. Previously the sector provided valuable economic and social benefits to approximately 2 - 3 million people with direct or indirect link, including over 300,000 subsistence and low-income farmers in Kenya. This project aims to support the revival of the pyrethrum subsector in Kenya and address rural poverty and transform rural economies by providing consistent incomes in the target regions as envisaged by this call. Specifically, we will develop pyrethrum seedlings via plant multiplication using tissue culture techniques that guarantee axillary shoot multiplication and rooting that optimise pyrethrins content (the active ingredients). The project will develop more efficient extraction technologies that avoid toxic materials based on ethanol and ultrasound assisted extraction technology and reduce the use of unsafe and unsustainable additives in the formulation of by developing entirely plant based stabilizers, synergists and an excipients
Croton Seed Oil Knowledge Transfer Partnership University of Greenwich, Egerton University and Eco Fuels (EcoFix) Kenya Limited
Donor: Innovate UK (African Agriculture Knowledge Transfer Partnership)
Value: Approx. £200K
Partners: Egerton University, EcoFix Kenya, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
To design and develop plant-based natural product innovations using Croton seed oil and the by-products from its extraction for sustainable, organic agriculture in Kenya that reduces farmer reliance on synthetic chemical pesticides and increases revenue for the farmers and the KTP business partner. Croton oil is extracted as a biofuel from Croton seeds and remains EFK’s primary source of revenue. However, it is our strategic aim to commercialise Croton seed oil and by-products of its extraction into a wider product range, especially sustainable pest control. This KTP will increase opportunities to market by-products (organic pest control and growth boosters) and develop new technologies (use of oil as an excipient for botanicals). The KTP delivers the first through chemical and biological validation of extracts from husks, a by-product from Croton oil extraction, for pest control. The second is achieved by using the main Croton product, the oil, as an excipient for pyrethrum. Pyrethrum is the world’s most traded botanical insecticide and is non-persistent in the environment and has low mammalian toxicity. However, it is presently formulated with petroleum industry products so non-organic.
The influence of diet on the honeybee lipidome
Value: Approx. £450K (to PS at Kew)
Partners: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew & Oxford University.
The research undertaken will make important discoveries regarding the role of lipids in a honeybee colony. We will investigate how natural lipids in the pollen and bee bread consumed by nursing-age worker honeybees are taken up and converted into glandular secretions (e.g. royal jelly) fed to larvae. We will quantify how these lipids are distributed within the tissues of adult and larval bees. We will map the transformation of dietary fatty acids and sterols into fat compounds found in bee guts, brains, reproductive organs, fat bodies, and brood food glands. Our research will also identify how fats in diet influence the quality of food given to larvae, and whether diet-induced alterations to fat in larval food affect development. Our ultimate goal will be to test how dietary fats influence the longevity of foragers and whole colony performance in a field setting. With these data, we will advise the beekeeping industry of best practice for the use of fats in substitutes for pollen. Using these data, land managers can also choose plants that provide the correct fatty acid and sterols in pollen for flower strip planting in agroecosystems. For these reasons, our research will lead to the improvement of welfare of domesticated bees. It has the potential to make a significant contribution to the enhancement of global food security through its impact on pollination services.
Combination Biopesticides - Transforming Pest Control in Chinese and UK Agriculture
Donor: BBSRC-Innovate UK (Newton UK-China)
Value: Approx. £400K
Partners: AgroPty Ltd (UK), Fujian Agricultural and Forestry University, Jiangxi Tian-Ren Ltd.
Environmentally benign fungal pathogens and insecticidal plant extracts could offer a sustainable alternative to synthetic chemical pesticides. Fungal control does not have many of the problems associated with conventional control such as pest resistance, toxicity to humans and persistence in the environment. One downside to such a technology is that it can be slow acting to achieve effective control. The aim of this project is to create a formulation combining fungal pathogens with the pesticidal plant extracts to create effective pest control with two non-synthetic control agents. This solution will be applicable in developing countries such as China where the materials can be locally produced. Creating a new product with these technologies may confer additional benefits as the modes of action may work in synergy to achieve greater pest control with less material required. Additional benefits to using these biopesticides would be the stimulation the growth of this market, provision of safer working conditions, creating job opportunities and allowing local growers to receive a greater return for their produce by conforming to EU regulations on pesticide use. We anticipate that this will have considerable benefits for the ecosystems in which they are applied due to reduced impacts on non-target insects such as pollinators.
Innovation for Improved Strawberry Pollination by Commercial Bumblebees Using Caffeine
Value: Approx. £280K
Partners: NIAB-EMR, Berry Gardens, Biobest Ltd.
Efficient pollination by insects, especially bees, is critical to ensuring food security and yields of many crops. Production of soft fruit such as strawberries in the UK is worth around £360m annually, is growing year on year but depends heavily upon pollination by insects, particularly bees. When pollination is inadequate it frequently results in misshapen fruit. Strawberry growers rely heavily on commercial bumblebees to improve pollination, but this is not always sufficient. This project investigated whether it is possible to prime managed bumblebees on strawberry farms to forage more efficiently on the flowers of the crop, in order to pollinate them more effectively. Since caffeine improves bees' memory for the scents of flowers, the project is testing whether these bees show increased foraging activity and attraction to strawberry flowers when they receive this priming treatment.
NaPROCLA - Natural Pest Regulation in Orphan Crop Legumes in Africa
Donor: BBSRC GCRF
Value: Approx. £1 million
Partners: NRI, NM-AIST, LUANAR, Egerton University, Charles Sturt University advising
Pest damage of legumes is one of the major challenges to food and nutritional security in Africa and disproportionately affects poor farmers growing low-input orphan crop grain legumes such as beans, pigeon pea, cowpea and lablab. Pest control is typically dependent on high agrochemical inputs which may have negative impacts on users and consumers and severely impact non-target invertebrates that can otherwise be beneficial to food production through pollination or natural pest regulation. Natural Pest Regulation has been estimated to be worth US$906 billion. Non-crop habitats in field margins provide the environment required to support natural enemies of pests including hoverflies. Management or manipulation of this non-crop habitat can help to support natural pest regulation and can even be augmented and sustained in better managed natural or manipulated agro-ecosystems. The occurrence, density and impacts of most beneficial insects in smallholder ecosystems, however, are poorly understood, particularly in Africa.
Optimising Pesticidal Plants
Donor: ACP S&T (European Commission)
Value: Approx. €1 million
Partners: NRI, Egerton University, Mzuzu University, Zimbabwe University, Sokoine University, Sustainable Global Gardens
Optimising Pesticidal Plants Technology Innovation, Outreach and Networks (OPTIONs) project is a project (Value Euros 1,000K) funded by the European Union Africa Caribbean and Pacific Groups of States Science and technology Programme 2014-2018 to research ways to optimise the improved use and uptake of pesticidal plants as pest management alternatives for small holder farmers in sub Saharan Africa. The project will develop strategies to increase accessibility to plant materials through propagation and elite provenance selection based on chemical analysis and biological study to ensure that promotion of the technology is sustainable, reliable and effective
Cocoa Pollination Optimisation for Production – CocoaPOP
Donor: ACP S&T (European Commission)
Value: Approx. €570K
Partners: NRI, University of Trinidad and Tobago, CABI, Cocoa Industry Board (Jamaica)
The Cocoa Pollination for Optimised Production project was a research project co-funded by the European Development Fund through the ACP Caribbean & Pacific Research Programme for Sustainable Development, a programme implemented by the ACP Group of States.
CocoaPOP was a collaboration between institutions in Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica and the United Kingdom with an objective of supporting research and capacity building on methods that improve yields of cocoa through improving pollination services. Higher yields will mean more cocoa can be produced from less land, reducing the need to expand plantations, protection biodiversity whilst raising farmer's incomes.
This project is in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts and Dartmouth College in USA and aims to determine how plant chemical sin the nectar and pollen of agricultural crops influence pollinators ability to cope with diseases including Nosema and Crithidia. This project will work closely alongside a National Science Foundation grant won by Phil at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew with the same partners and together will determine which flowering species impact positively or negatively on bees and potentially alleviate or exacerbate pollinator declines and colony collapses. The overall premise is that plant chemical could provide protection against disease or where toxic could weaken pollinators and make them more susceptible to the effects of disease.
Future areas of research will probably focus more on the pollinators as the potential global impact of this work is huge in terms of enhancing pollinator health and providing important impacts at landscape levels. Stevenson's recent research published in Science and Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment indicate the height of interest in this area of research
- Current PhD Students
Ellen Baker – Oxford University
Elynor Moore - Oxford University
Balthazar Ndakidemi - Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology
Juri Felix - Royal Holloway University of London.
Laura Haynes - University of Greenwich
Janet Obyanji - Egerton University
- Former PhD students (last 5 years)
Arran Folly - Royal Holloway University of London 2019
Angela Mkindi - Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science & Technology 2019
Elisante Philemon- NM-AIST 2020
Prisila Mkenda - NM-AIST 2020
Billy Ferrara - University of Greenwich 2018
Ali Aminu - University of Greenwich 2015
Stephen Nyirenda - University of Greenwich 2015
John Kamanula - University of Greenwich 2015
Milton Otema - University of Greenwich 2015
- Anyanga, M.O., Ssemakula, G.N., Mwanga, R.O.M., Stevenson P.C. 2021. Effects of hydroxycinnamic acid esters on sweetpotato weevil feeding and oviposition and interactions with Bacillus thuringiensis toxin, Journal of Pest Science. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10340-020-01297-5
- Amoabeng, B., Stevenson, P.C., Mochiah, B., Asare, K.P., Gurr, G.M. (2020) Scope for non-crop plants to promote conservation biological control of crop pests and serve as sources of botanical insecticides. Scientific Reports, 10, 6951.
- Aguirre, L.A., Davis, J.K., Stevenson P.C., Adler, L.S. (2020). Herbivory and Time Since Flowering Shape Floral Rewards and Pollinator-Pathogen Interactions. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 46, 978-986.
- Stevenson, PC, Bidartondo, MI, Blackhall‐Miles, R, et al. 2020 The state of the world’s urban ecosystems: What can we learn from trees, fungi, and bees?. Plants, People, Planet. 2: 482– 498
- Zu P, Boege, K., del-Val, E., Schuman, M.C., Stevenson, P.C., Zaldivar-Riveron, A., Saavedra, S. (2020) Information arms race explains plant-herbivore chemical communication in ecological communities, Science, 368, 1377-1381.
- Adler, LS, Fowler, AE, Malfi, RL, Anderson, PR, Coppinger, LM, Deneen, PM, Lopez, S, Irwin, RE, Stevenson, PC. 2020. Assessing Chemical Mechanisms Underlying Effects Of Sunflower. Journal of Chemical Ecology 46, 649-658.
- Folly, AJ, Stevenson P.C., Brown, M.F.J. (2020). Age-related pharmacodynamics in a bumblebee-microsporidian system mirror similar patterns in vertebrates. Journal of Experimental Biology, 223, jeb217828.
- Stevenson P.C. 2020. For antagonists and mutualists: the paradox of insect toxic secondary metabolites in nectar and pollen. Phytochemistry Reviews, 19, 603-614.
- Mkenda, P.A. Ndakidemi, P.A., Stevenson, P.C., Arnold. SEJ, Darbyshire, I., Belmain, S.R., Priebe, J., Xie, G. Johnson, A.C., Tumbo, J., Gurr, G.M. 2020. Knowledge gaps among smallholder farmers hinder adoption of conservation biological control. Biocontrol Science and Technology, 30 (3), 256-277.
- Fernández-Grandon, M., Harte, S., Ewany, J., Bray, D.P., Stevenson, P.C. 2020. Additive effect of botanical insecticide and entomopathogenic fungi on pest mortality and the behavioural response of its natural enemy, Plants, 9, e173.
- Rioba N. and Stevenson, P.C. 2020. Opportunities and Scope for Botanical Extracts and Products for the Management of Fall Armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) for Smallholders in Africa. Plants, 9, e207.
- Borrell J.S., Dodsworth S., Forest, F., Perez-Escobar O., Lee M. A., Mattana E., Pritchard H., Ballesteros D., Stevenson P.C., Howes M.-J.R., Kusumoto B., Ondo I., Milliken, W., Moat J., Ryan P., Ulian T., Pironon S (2020). The climatic challenge: Which plants will people use in the next century? Environmental and Experimental Botany, 170 e103872
- Phambala, K. Tembo, Y., Kasambala, T., Kabambe, VH, Stevenson P.C., Belmain, S.R. 2020 Bioactivity of common pesticidal plants on fall armyworm larvae (Spodoptera frugiperda) Plants 9, e112.
- Mkindi. AG., Tembo, YLB, Mbega, ER, Smith AK, Farrell IW, Ndakidemi, PA, Stevenson, PC, and Belmain, SR 2020. Extracts of Common Pesticidal Plants Increase Plant Growth and Yield in Common Bean Plants, Plants, 9, e149.
- Mkindi,A., Tembo, Y., Mbega, E, Kendall-Smith. A., Farrell, I.W., Ndakidemi, P., Belmain, S.R. and Stevenson, P.C. 2019 Phytochemical Analysis of Tephrosia vogelii across East Africa Reveals Three Chemotypes that Influence Its Use as a Pesticidal Plant, Plants 8, 597
- Mkenda, P.A., Ndakidemi, P.A., Stevenson, P.C., Arnold, SEJ, Xie, G., Belmain, S.R., Chidege, M., Gurr, G.M. 2019 Field margin vegetation is donor habitat for natural enemies of bean pests but field size mediates the extent of benefit. Sustainability, 11, 6399.
- Mkenda, P.A., Ndakidemi, P.A., Mbega, E., Stevenson P.C., Arnold, S.E.J., Gurr, G.M., Belmain, S.R., (2019) Multiple ecosystem services from field margin vegetation for ecological sustainability in agriculture: scientific evidence and knowledge gaps. PeerJ, 7, e8091.
- Arnold, S.E.J., Forbes, S.J., Hall, D.R., Farman, D.I., Bridgemohan, P., Spinelli, G.R., Bray, D.P., Perry, G.B., Grey, L., Belmain, S.R., Stevenson, P.C. (2019) Specialised flowers of a tropical crop attract a generalised flower visitor with floral odour. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 45, 869-878.
- Koch, H., Woodward, J., Langat, M., Brown. M.J.F. and Stevenson P.C. (2019) Flagellum removal by a nectar metabolite inhibits infectivity of a bumblebee parasite. Current Biology, 29, 3494–3500.
- Mkenda, PA, Ndakidemi, PA, Stevenson, PC, Arnold, SEJ, Belmain, SR, Chidege, M., Gurr, GM, Woolley, VC (2019) Characterization of Hymenopteran Parasitoids of Aphis fabae in an African Smallholder Bean Farming System through Sequencing of COI ‘Mini-Barcodes’ Insects, 10, 331.
- Elisante, F. Ndakidemi, P.A., Arnold, S.E.J., Belmain, S.R., Gurr, G.M., Darbyshire, I., Xie, G., Tumbo, J., and Stevenson, P.C. (2019) Knowledge Gaps on The Role Of Pollinators And Value Of Field Margins Among Smallholders In Bean Agri-Systems, Journal or Rural Studies, 70, 75-86
- Scott-Brown AS, Arnold SEJ, Kite G.C., Farrell IW, Farman, D.I., Collins D.W., Stevenson PC. (2019) Mechanisms in mutualisms: A chemically mediated thrips pollination strategy in common elder. Planta, 250, 367-379
- Palmer-Young, E., Egan, P., Farrell, I., Adler, L.S., Irwin, R.E., Stevenson, P.C. 2019 Chemistry of floral rewards: intra- and interspecific variability of nectar and pollen secondary metabolites across taxa, Ecological Monographs, 89, e01335.
- Palmer-Young, E.; Farrell, I.W.; Adler, L.S; Milano, N., Egan, P; Irwin, R; Stevenson, P.C. 2019. Secondary metabolites of nectar and pollen: a data resource for ecological and evolutionary studies. Ecology, 100, e02621
- Prado, S.G., Collazo, J.A., Stevenson, P.C., Irwin, R.E. 2019 A comparison of coffee floral traits under two different agricultural practices, Scientific Reports 9, 7331.
- Davis, J.K, Aguirre, L.A., Barber, N.A, Stevenson, P.C. and Adler, L.S., 2019 From plant fungi to bee parasites: mycorrhizae and soil nutrients shape floral chemistry and bee pathogens. Ecology 100, e 02802.
- Simmonds, M.S.J., Stevenson, P.C., Hanson, F.E. 2019. Rosmarinic acid in Canna generalis activates the medial deterrent chemosensory neurone and deters feeding in the tobacco hornworm Manduca sexta. Physiological Entomology, 44: 140-147.
- Rothchild, K.W., Adler, L.S., Irwin, R.E., Sadd, B.M., Stevenson, P.C., Palmer-Young, E.C. (2018) Effects of short-term exposure to naturally occurring thymol concentrations on transmission of a bumble bee parasite. Ecological Entomology, 43, 567-577.
- Egan, P., Adler, L.S., Irwin, R.E., Farrel, I.W., Palmer-young, E., Stevenson P.C. 2018. Crop Domestication Alters Floral Reward Chemistry with Potential Consequences for Pollinator Health Frontiers in Plant Science. 9, 1357.
- Adler, L.S., Ellner, S.P., McArt, S.H., Stevenson, P.C., Irwin, R.E. 2018 Diseases where you dine: Plant species and floral traits associated with pathogen transmission in bumble bees. Ecology, 99, 2535-2545
- Tembo, Y., Mkindi, A., Mkenda, P., Mpumi, Mwanauta, R., Stevenson P.C., Ndakidemi, P. Belmain S.R, 2018) Pesticidal Plant Extracts Improve Yield and Reduce Insect Pests on Legume Crops without Harming Beneficial Arthropods. Frontiers in Plant Science, 9, 1425.
- Stevenson, P.C., Farrell, I., Green P.W.C., Mvumi, B., Brankin A., Belmain, S.R. Novel Agmatine Derivatives in Maerua edulis With Bioactivity Against Callosobruchus maculatus, a Cosmopolitan Storage Insect Pest. Frontiers in Plant Science, 9, 1506.
- Amoabeng, B.W., Stevenson, P.C., Pandey, S., Mochiah, M.B. & Gurr, G.M. (2018). Insecticidal activity of a native Australian tobacco, Nicotiana megalosiphon Van Heurck & Muell. Arg. (Solanales: Solanaceae) against key insect pests of brassicas. Crop Protection 106: 6–12.
- Arnold, S.E.J., Perry, G.B., Spinelli, G.R., Pierre, B., Murray, F., Haughton, C., Dockery, O., Grey, L., Murphy, S.T., Belmain, S.R. & Stevenson, P.C. (2018). The significance of climate in the pollinator dynamics of a tropical agroforestry system. Agriculture Ecosystems and Environment 254, 1-9.DOI: 10.1016/j.agee.2017.11.013.
- Head of Chemical Ecology Research Group
Committees and panels
- Pollinator Advisory Steering Group (Defra)
- Group Evidence and Science and Analysis Committee (Defra)
Awards and External Recognitions
- NERC Individual Merit Researchers (IMP3)
- Fellow Royal Society of Entomology