Enhancing food security through understanding stress adaptation in species used for biocontrol

   School of Biosciences

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  Dr Scott Hayward  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This project will investigate the thermal biology and stress physiology of insect or mite species that represent candidate biocontrol agents for crop pests in glasshouses as well as other applications. In the UK, the release of non-native species for use in biocontrol is only permitted under special license, and this is only granted following a detailed environmental risk assessment (ERA) of each candidate species. A critical component of the ERA is to determine the species’ ability to establish outdoors in the country of release. In the UK (and other temperate countries), this primarily focuses on whether the species has the capacity to enter a winter dormancy (diapause), as well as the cold tolerance of different life stages (Bale and Hayward, 2010). Only species that cannot survive a UK winter, and thus not establish outside the glasshouse environment. will be given a license to be used. Understanding the thermal biology of biocontrol species has also become a key part of enhancing integrated pest management (IPM) practises, e.g. by improving culturing practises, as well as matching species capacity to cope with different environmental conditions both when (seasonally) and where they can be most effectively employed.

In addition to controlling insect pests, some biocontrol agents also represent interesting candidates to control certain plant pathogens, such as powdery mildew (Pijnakker et al. 2021). Our understanding of these multi-trophic interactions and the impact of environmental temperature on the success of different biocontrol strategies remain an important knowledge gap. This project will investigate what biocontrol agents might be effective in combating both invertebrate pests and powdery mildew in combination.

This project represents an industry CASE partnership with the company Biobest Group NV with the opportunity to spend time working at Biobest HQ in Belgium. During placements at Biobest, the DR will be emersed in both the applied and commercial aspects of a multi-national company involved in integrated pest management (IPM). They will experience first hand the operational differences with academia, and develop new skills in project management and communication, as well as product registration, marketing and commercial awareness. They will witness the practicalities of translating lab-based research into functional outputs within an applied setting dictated by business models. In addition, this placement will give them direct exposure to the requirements of stakeholders within agriculture, providing an overview of food security impact pathways from lab to field.

The core aims of the project will: 1. Investigate the climate stress physiology of candidate biocontrol species of interest to Biobest as part of required ERAs. 2. Determine their efficacy as biocontrol agents under a range of environmental conditions. 3. Help develop enhanced IPM strategies based on the outcomes of 1 & 2.


Bale, J. S. and Hayward, S. A. L. (2010) Insect overwintering in a changing climate. Journal of Experimental Biology 213: 980-994.

Primary supervisor: Dr Scott Hayward, University of Birmingham

Non-academic partner: Felix Wäckers, Biobest Group NV

Candidates are encouraged to contact Dr Scott Hayward to discuss the project before applying if they wish to.


Deadline: 04 January 2024

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