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  MScR: Understanding the consequences of unpredictable cold stress events on a beneficial insect and the implications for natural pest control in agricultural landscapes

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr Lucy Alford  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

The earth is currently experiencing rapid changes in climate. As ectotherms, insects are highly susceptible to temperature change, with temperature impacting all aspects of their fitness. During winter months, insects are faced with challenging cold temperatures. To survive these conditions, some insects enter a cold-tolerant diapause state. However, warming winters in temperate regions have led to an increase in the winter activity of many insects during a time when food is scarce, along with other resources such as shelter and nesting sites. Furthermore, as a consequence of climate change, the frequency of unpredictable extreme cold events is increasing. This is placing additional stress on insects, including beneficial insects that perform vital ecosystems services within agricultural landscapes (e.g. biological control and pollination), acting to further undermine already fragile and destabilised agroecosystems.

Parasitoid wasps of the genus Aphidius are beneficial insects in agroecosystems and play an important role in the biological control of aphid pests. However, like many temperate insects, Aphidius wasps are no longer entering into a winter diapause and are instead remaining winter-active. This is rendering parasitoids increasingly susceptible to winter conditions and unpredictable frost events, with implications for the biological control function they perform, particularly during peak spring and summer aphid abundance the succeeding year. Utilising Aphidius wasps as a study system, the proposed project will investigate how unpredictable cold stress events may impact a beneficial insect and the implications for the vital ecosystem service it provides. Understanding how beneficial insects will be impacted by unpredictable cold events will aid in predicting how beneficial insects will be impacted by climate change and what this means for the beneficial ecosystem services they provide and overall agroecosystem functioning.  

The successful candidate will gain experience in a range of laboratory techniques including measures of thermal physiology and thermotolerance (Critical Thermal Minima, Chill Coma Temperatures, Lethal Temperatures, Lethal Times), microdissection, and insect husbandry across multiple trophic levels. 


MSc by Research (MScR) is a 1-year research degree that provides an intensive lab-based training and a preparation for PhD study. You will carry out your studies as part of your research group – like a PhD student does. Towards the end of the year, you write up a thesis on your research and are examined on this. This degree suits students wanting to gain maximum research experience in preparation for PhD applications. 

We are keen to recruit a diverse range of students and to ensure our research is open to all. We particularly welcome applications from groups traditionally under-represented in life sciences research. Please check the University webpages for the current tuition fee information. Most MScR projects also require a bench fee. This varies depending on the research and your project supervisor can tell you the bench fee for the project.

Please contact Dr Lucy Alford ([Email Address Removed]) directly for information about the project. 

How to apply:

Use the following link to apply: Start your application | Study at Bristol | University of Bristol

You should apply to the Faculty of Life Sciences, School of Biological Sciences selecting the programme Biological Sciences - MSc by Research.

Please ensure you upload all supporting documents as per the admissions statement (which applies to both PhD and MScR programmes): PhD Biological Sciences | Study at Bristol | University of Bristol

Clearly indicate the supervisor name and project title in the relevant section of the application form.

The system will not allow you to submit your application without uploading a document to the research statement section.  Where this is an optional requirement, please upload a blank Word document which is headed “No research statement required”.

 Applications are accepted all year round. However, the preferred entry points for study are September / January / April / July.

Agriculture (1) Biological Sciences (4) Environmental Sciences (13)

Funding Notes

This project is for students who can fund the project themselves; however, you are eligible to apply for a University of Bristol Think Big Postgraduate Award ( If you are a UK student from a Black background then you are eligible to apply for an Opportunity Bristol Scholarship (

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