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Assessing the pollination efficiency of different species of bees on buzz-pollinated plants of agricultural significance

Project Description

Bees provide essential pollination services in both natural and agricultural systems. The recent and worrying decline in bee populations around the world has highlighted the importance of understanding the interaction of flowers and bees during pollination. Although many bees, including those used as supplemental pollinators, are generalist pollinators, not all bees can provide all pollination services. For example, honeybees are incapable of buzz pollination, a type of pollination that involves bees producing high frequency vibrations with their thoracic muscles to pollinate specialised flowers (Fig. 1). There are more than 20,000 species of plants that require buzz pollination, including crops such as tomato, eggplant and kiwi. Yet, we know relatively little about the capacity of different species of bees to pollinate these specialised flowers.
Here you will investigate the capacity of wild and captive pollinators (bumblebees and honeybees) to pollinate natural and agricultural systems. We will investigate whether different species of bumblebees differ in the capacity to buzz pollinate flowers, and whether the presence of non-buzz-pollinators such as Apis mellifera, hinder or benefit pollination of wild and crop species.
The project brings together experts in pollination (Prof. Willmer), plant reproduction and buzz pollination (D. Vallejo-Marin), native bees and plant reproduction (Prof. Quezada Euan), and commercial pollinators (BIOBEST). Field trials will be conducted in Scotland and in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico with our local collaborators. We will use an experimental approach to study pollination services involving both laboratory experiments of bee behaviour, and field trials of wild and crop species. During fieldwork in Mexico, we will conduct community-level surveys of wild bees in natural plant communities and agricultural fields. As agricultural systems, we will focus on tomato and Habanero chilli pepper, both of which are important commercial crops in either national or global markets. Our work will assess the effect of pollinator behaviour and diversity on the productivity of these crops.
The specific questions we will address in this study are:
1) Do different species of bees differ in their capacity to successfully pollinate buzz pollinated wild plants, and agricultural fields of tomato and Habanero pepper?
2) Does supplemental buzz pollinators facilitate or interfere with the pollination services of natural pollinators?
3) Does the diversity of buzz-pollinating bees increase fruit production and seed set?
4) Does the presence of non-buzzing bees, interfere with pollination services provided by buzz pollinators?
The efficiency of bees in pollinating different flowers will be initially assessed in controlled behavioural experiments in Scotland and subsequently during field observations in natural bee communities in Mexico. Supplemental pollination trials will be conducted using small-scale experiments in glasshouses, and large-scale trials in tomato and Habanero plots in Yucatan.
The project will involve spending time conducting field experiments in Mexico alongside our local research team there, led by Prof. Quezada Euan. The buzz pollination characteristics of different species of bees will be assessed using acoustic recordings, accelerometers and laser vibrometry . Pollination services will be assessed using pollen tracking approaches, and artificial pollinations to assess whether experimental and wild plants are pollen limited. It is envisioned that the field season will require the student spending approximately 3-4 months in the Yucatan Peninsula per year for at least two years.

More information:

Funding Notes

This is a competition funded PhD studentship as part of the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership IAPETUS2 (View Website). For the successful candidate, the studentship will cover tuition fees and provide a stipend for UK students only (but see NERC funding rules for exceptions regarding EU citizens).
A 1st Class undergraduate degree and/or an M.Sc. is recommended for this very highly competitive programme.


Deadline for applications: 04 January 2019
To apply: Please send your CV and a letter of why you are ideally suited for this project to: [email protected] No letters of support are needed at this stage. Application deadline: 4 January 2019. Informal queries are welcome.

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