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A community genetics approach to understanding tri-trophic interactions in agricultural ecosystems.

   School of Biology

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  Dr D Shuker, Dr A Karley  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

The diversity and productivity of ecosystems are shaped by multi-trophic interactions. For instance, the effects of herbivores on plants will be mitigated by the predators and parasites of those herbivores. Similar effects occur in agricultural systems, where the effects of pests are influenced by their natural predators and the nature of their host plants. Understanding the mechanisms underlying these interactions can be challenging, but technological advances in recent years have provided tools that can be used to examine the genetic control of complex multi-species interactions. In agro-ecosystems, community genetics approaches offer an opportunity to understand the relative contribution of genetic and environmental factors to the success and control of insect pests. Aphids are economically-important pests, causing up to 10-50% crop losses and costing the UK more than £70 million annually. Control of aphids by non-chemical means can be achieved by both exploiting plant resistance traits and by deploying or augmenting populations of aphid natural enemies. However, the interactions between the plants and the natural enemies on aphid populations are rarely considered.

The focus of this project will be to use a variety of genetic approaches to explore how a host plant (Solanum tuberosum) influences the success of the parasitoid wasp Aphidius ervi attacking the potato aphid Macrosiphum euphorbiae. The student will receive training in a variety of genetic and genomic techniques (QTL mapping, transcriptomic studies, bioinformatics, plus classical genetics), within an ecological context of economic relevance. The project will build on recent work by DMS using model parasitic wasp systems (see below) and initiate what will hopefully be a long-term collaboration with the James Hutton Institute.

Funding Notes


Applications from UK residents only. The Studentship is for 4 years.


1. Pannebakker, B.A., Trivedi, U., Blaxter, M. & Watt, R., Shuker, D.M. (2013) The transcriptomic basis of oviposition behaviour in the parasitoid wasp Nasonia vitripennis. PLoS ONE, 8: e68608.
2. Khudr, M.S., Oldekop, J., Shuker, D.M. & Preziosi, R.F. (2013) Parasitoid wasps influence where aphids die via an inter-specific indirect genetic effect. Biology Letters, 9: 20121151.
3. Pannebakker, B.A, Watt, R., Knott, S.A., West, S.A., & Shuker, D.M. (2011) The quantitative genetic basis of sex ratio variation in Nasonia vitripennis: a QTL study. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 24: 12-22.
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