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Impacts of climate change on the resilience of natural enemy communities for biocontrol of insect pests


Dr Helen Hesketh , Dr S Zytynska , Dr Gia Aradottir Friday, January 15, 2021 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This is an exciting opportunity for a student to investigate the impacts of a changing climate on the resilience of natural enemy communities to provide regulating above-, and below-ground ecosystem services for control of insect pests. The ideal candidate will be an enthusiastic and motivated individual, with an interest in Conservation Biological Control of insect pests.


There are significant challenges to finding new solutions for sustainable agriculture, whilst ensuring agricultural productivity on a global scale. Conservation biological control uses functionally diverse populations of natural enemies (predators, parasitoids, microbes) within agricultural systems to alleviate pest pressure and promote regulating ecosystem services, in the absence of pesticides. Whilst we understand the role of parasitoids/predators and insect pathogens for biological control, and are beginning to acknowledge the importance of beneficial soil bacteria for plant health, less is known about the intricate interactions between these groups of organisms for controlling pests, especially under environmental change.

You will investigate a novel approach of integrating above- and below- ground pest control simultaneously. Using a barley-aphid system, you will investigate the effects of climate change (elevated CO2) on multi-trophic interactions and the potential for increased pest pressures under future conditions. Exploring the impact of environmental changes in CO2 on multi-trophic interactions, you will bring innovative understanding of how microbial natural enemies may be affected under future environmental scenarios. This has rarely been studied and especially not in the context of a community assemblage of multiple natural enemies where you will assess the value of this regulating ecosystem service in terms of plant health and crop yield.

The PhD will build complexity, from lab-studies, to larger mesocosm greenhouse experiments and transferring to the field. There is also an exciting opportunity for you to engage with farmers to co-design key questions to address in the PhD and to disseminate outcomes from the studies.


The overarching objectives are to:

  1. Determine trade-offs between pest control services provided by soil bacteria and by fungi/parasitoids aboveground.
  2. Determine the impact of environmental changes (eCO2) on biocontrol/disease transmission, and plant health.
  3. Transfer knowledge from laboratory experiment to the field.
  4. Engage end-user farmer groups with research input and outputs

The ACCE DTP is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or career pathway to date. We understand that commitment and excellence can be shown in many ways and have built our recruitment process to reflect this. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds, particularly those underrepresented in science, who have curiosity, creativity and a drive to learn new skills. We particularly encourage applicants with a strong background in ecology/environmental science, experience in conducting independent fieldwork and an interest in engaging with stakeholders and end-users. Applicants are expected hold at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent.

The successful student will be based primarily at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Wallingford (lead supervisor Dr Helen Hesketh), with the University of Liverpool awarding the degree (supervisor Dr Sharon Zytynska) and time spent at both Liverpool and with our project partner Dr Gia Aradottir at NIAB, Cambridge. You are welcome to get in touch via email with the lead supervisor before you apply if you wish to discuss the project further or have any questions.

Your application should include a CV, two referees and a personal/supporting statement/cover letter. We strongly recommend you use the ACCE guided personal statement in place of a standard personal/supporting statement/cover letter.

Funding Notes

ACCE studentships are available to UK applicants, and from 2020/21 we are permitted to recruit a certain number of international candidates to the programme. Residency rules apply. Please note, ACCE can only fund International students at the UK fee rate. If selected, International and EU fee rate candidates would need to cover the remaining amount of tuition fees by securing additional funding from elsewhere. International fees for 2020/21 entry at University Liverpool were £23,650 per annum. The NERC ACCE DTP in Ecology and Evolution, programme starts October 2021.

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