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EASTBIO: Pesticide problems for honey bees: a closer look in our towns.

  • Full or part time
    Dr A Bowman
    Dr L Trembleau
    Ms Fiona Highet
    Dr Mike Taylor
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, January 05, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description


Dr Alan Bowman (University of Aberdeen)

Dr Laurent Trembleau (University of Aberdeen)

Mrs Fiona Highet MBE (Scottish Agricultural Science Agency)

Dr Mike Taylor (Scottish Agricultural Science Agency)

Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are critically important to global food production by virtue of their pollination services. Worryingly, there is a well-recognised honey bee health crisis threatening bee populations and, thereby, global food security. One of the causes implicated in honey bee deaths is pesticide (fungicide, herbicide, insecticide) pollution that has led to calls for reduced pesticide use. These calls have recently resulted in the prohibited use of the neonicotinoid pesticide in agricultural production. But, what of the pesticide use in urban environments (residential gardens, parks, roadsides, etc) where most beekeepers have their hives? Is there a significant problem of pesticide sub-lethal poisoning of honey bees in urban areas relative to agricultural areas?

Pollen will be collected from bees and hives in urban areas, agricultural land and non-agricultural countryside by the student and by beekeepers nationwide both spatially and temporally. The identity and quantity of the pesticide content of the pollen will be determined by mass spectrometry. The source of the pollen plant will be determined by next-generation sequencing and microscopic analysis. In addition, a reactive sampling approach focussed on the urban areas will determine any pesticide contamination and pollen identity in hives with apparent chronic and acute pesticide poisoning. Bees from such hives will be examined for gene biomarkers indicative of the pesticide exposure. Overall, the aim of the project is to assess the exposure of honey bees, and de facto other insect pollinators, to pesticides in urban environments relative to agricultural environments to allow any future policy change to be evidence-based.

The project offers the student much scope for developing its direction as it progresses. A full programme of generic skill training is available. The project will provide training in cutting edge environmental analytical chemistry and genomic finger-printing sequencing and modern molecular biology. The student will be based within the University of Aberdeen with opportunities to work at the Scottish Government SASA laboratories in Edinburgh.

Application Procedure:

Please send your completed EASTBIO application form, along with academic transcripts and CV to Alison McLeod at . Two references should be provided by the deadline using the EASTBIO reference form. Please advise your referees to return the reference form to .

Funding Notes

This 4 year PhD project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership. This opportunity is only open to UK nationals (or EU students who have been resident in the UK for 3+ years immediately prior to the programme start date) due to restrictions imposed by the funding body. Queries on eligibility? Email Alison McLeod ().

Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a First Class Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2:1 Honours degree may be considered provided they have a Distinction at Masters level.


Racke, K.D. (1993) Urban pest control scenarios and chemicals. In: Pest and Pesticides in Urban Environments. Pg 2-9. DOI: 10.1021/bk-1993-0522.ch001

Taylor MJ, Giela A, Sharp EA, Senior CC, Vyas DS. 2019. A rapid multi-class, multi-residue UHPLC-MS/MS method for the simultaneous determination of anticoagulant rodenticides, pesticides and veterinary medicines in wild animals, pets and livestock. Analytical Methods. 11(8):1087-1101.

Highet F, Toteva G, Downie M, Peterson M, Gray AJ, Reid A. 2018. The Bees Needs: Using a molecular analysis of bee collected pollen to understand which plants play an important role in honey bee forage. Crop Protection in Northern Britain 2018. :37-42

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