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ArcticBuzz: bumblebee community responses to climate change in Lapland

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, January 06, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Insect pollinator declines are of global concern and understanding the factors driving this trend is a research priority. Yet to date, we still have limited knowledge of how climate change can affect insect pollinator populations. For instance, why have some species shown evidence of latitudinal range shifts in apparent response to climate change when others have not? Addressing these types of questions requires us to understand the mechanisms and processes by which insect pollinator populations are dynamically responding as well as how the structure of plant-pollinator networks respond under climatic variation.

This project will study an Arctic bumblebee community and the host plants they visit in Lapland, Sweden. As ectotherms, bumblebee life-histories are mediated by temperature and thus by understanding intra- and interannual population and community turnover we can look to inform predictive models under warming scenarios and identify early warning signs of climate change impacts. Furthermore, this project will reveal the spatio-temporal variation (non-static) in the bumblebee-plant visitation network to reveal how resistant and resilient the mutualistic interaction network is to climate change.

The project takes advantage of a unique phenology transect established over a century ago allowing us to compare past data on bumblebee/plant community composition and phenology with contemporary data spanning the major warming over the last four decades. The transect runs along an altitudinal gradient on Mount Nuolja, Abisko, providing a thermal cline with the study taking a space-for-time substitution approach. A number of important questions will be addressed by the student, which can include: i) how preceding and current environmental variables determine population demography and queen turnover; ii) what phenological variation is apparent across years, and how this relates to population and community-level responses; iii) how climatic variation determines floral availability and floral acquisition by bumblebees and whether there is evidence of thermal tracking; iv) how the topology and structure of the mutualistic network responds to climatic variation; v) how population variability in the traits of individuals of a species aggregate determines network structure ; vi) whether we can predict non-random changes to the mutualistic networks by consideration of data on metabolic, phylogenetic and functional trait variation across species.

The student will become experienced in using a number of interdisciplinary techniques, including: i) a variety of fieldwork skills, and bee and plant taxonomic identification; ii) molecular methods in DNA barcoding for identifying cryptic bee species and revealing plant visitation networks from pollen samples; iii) palynology; iv) studying bee thermal profiling; v) managing and analysing big data; vi) skills in ecological network construction; vii) statistics such as structural equation modelling, and developing mathematical models to understand extinction vulnerability.

The project will involve a significant amount of fieldwork in the Arctic and will require the candidate to be relatively physically fit. This interdisciplinary project will also benefit from co-supervision & collaboration from a number of world leading scientists, including: Jacob Johansson (Imperial College and Lund University, Sweden); Keith Larson (Umea University, Sweden); Jason Tylianakis (Canterbury University, NZ), Andrew MacDougal (University of Guelph, Canada); Emily Baird (Stockholm University (Sweden).

TO APPLY: Please send your CV and a 1 page (A4) cover letter describing your suitability for the studentship to . If you have any questions regarding the PhD then you can also contact me via the email address.

Funding Notes

Applicants should be aware that as these studentships are funded through NERC (Natural Environment Research Council), to be eligible for a full award they must have either:
British Citizenship
Settled status in the UK, meaning they have no restrictions on how long they can stay,
Been ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the studentship - (For non-EU citizens, this must NOT have been in full time education.). This means they must have been normally residing in the UK (apart from temporary or occasional absences). This does not apply to UK nationals.

How good is research at Imperial College London in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 99.55

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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