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KESS2 Scholarship: The magnetic sense of bees: mechanism, function and vulnerability to electromagnetic noise

Project Description

Applications are invited for a three year PhD research studentship investigating the magnetic sense in bees and the impact of electromagnetic noise on their behaviour. The studentship is funded by the Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships East (KESS 2 East) ( in collaboration with the National Grid. It will cover tuition fees and an annual tax-free stipend, as well as a travel budget for workshop and conference attendance.

Insect pollinators face serious threats from anthropogenic pollutants. Recent evidence highlights that anthropogenic electromagnetic radiation is at levels never before experienced in human history, and several recent reviews have highlighted the need to understand the effects of this on biological systems (Bandara and Carpenter 2018) and particularly in pollinators such as bees (Vanbergen et al. 2019).

One line of evidence suggests that at least some frequencies of electromagnetic radiation may be disrupting the magnetic sense in other animals such as birds. There is a suggestion that fluctuations in the earth’s magnetic field may be a factor in certain types of colony collapse disorder, such as desertion syndrome (Ferarri 2014). However, while there is evidence that bees possess a magnetic sense and can be trained to discriminate magnetic signatures, its function in their foraging and navigation remains to be determined.

In light of this, the PhD project aims to address this gap in our knowledge of bee behaviour by investigating the role of the magnetic sense in bee navigation. The successful student will carry out experiments to test hypotheses of the function and mechanism of magnetic sense use in bees. They will have access to state of the art tracking technology to test the behavioural response of the insects to magnetic field manipulations, through an initiative at Bangor University, which is developing drone based tracking technology to follow the foraging flights of bees in the wild.

The project is a collaboration between Bangor University (Primary Supervisor Dr Richard Holland , co-supervisor Dr. Paul Cross ), Queen Mary University of London (co-supervisor Professor Lars Chittka ) and the National Grid (co-supervisor Hayley Tripp ). The successful student will spend 30 days per year on placement with the National Grid as part of the project.


Applicants should hold a First or upper second class degree or Masters qualification, ideally in a biological or environmental subject, but students in the physical sciences should not be discouraged due to the multidisciplinary nature of this research.

To apply: Please send a CV and covering letter to Richard Holland () and cc to Penny Dowdney (). The closing date for applications is February 1st 2020. The start date of the project is at the latest 31st March 2020. For informal inquiries, please contact Richard Holland.

Funding Notes

KESS 2 East is a pan-Wales higher level skills initiative led by Bangor University on behalf of the HE sector in Wales. It is part funded by the Welsh Government’s European Social Fund (ESF) convergence programme for East Wales.


Bandara, P. and Carpenter D.O. (2018). Planetary electromagnetic pollution: it is time to assess its impact. The Lancet: Planetary Health 2, e509-547.
Vanbergen A. et al. (2019) Risk to pollinators from anthropogenic electro-magnetic radiation (EMR): Evidence and knowledge gaps. Science of the Total Environment.
Ferrari, T.(2014) Magnets, magnetic field fluctuations and geomagnetic disturbances impair the homing ability of honey bees (Apis mellifera), Journal of Apicultural Research, 53:4, 452-465.

How good is research at Bangor University in Agriculture, Veterinary and Food Science?
(joint submission with Aberystwyth University)

FTE Category A staff submitted: 18.20

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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