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PhD Studentship in Biomechanics and energetics of foraging in leaf-cutter ants.

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, March 01, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The Evolutionary Biomechanics Laboratory invites applications for a research studentship in the field of insect biomechanics/physiology, leading to the award of a PhD degree. The position is open to UK and EU students who fulfil the eligibility criteria, and is funded for 3.5 years at UKRI rate through a European Research Council award.

The aim of the project is to study the foraging behaviour of leaf-cutter ants from an energetical perspective. Leaf-cutter ants are the prime consumer of plant material and the principal insect pest of agriculture throughout the neotropics. Key to their remarkable success is their ability to harvest fresh plant material in order to grow fungi as crops, which has driven the evolution of an extensive polymorphism, i.e. adult workers differ susbtantially in size. This polymorphism has been suggested to enable an efficient exploitation of a variety of food sources through an associated task-specialisation. For example, smaller workers tend to cut softer leaves and carry lighter loads, whereas larger workers cut tough materials and carry heavy loads. However, the rules which govern such a size-dependent division of labour have remained unclear, and direct evidence for an increase in colony fitness through the development of a polymorphic worker caste is scarce. In this project, we will investigate to what extent the complex foraging behaviour of leaf-cutter ants can be explained by the size-dependence of the energetic costs of cutting and carrying. The overall goal is to link the mechanical properties of food sources with foraging performance, and food source-specific variations in foraging behaviour. The project will involve both experimental and theoretical approaches, and will be conducted in a collaborative multi-disciplinary group at Imperial, which studies leaf-cutter ants using a range of methods, including solid mechanics, experimental entomology, biomechanics, and computer vision & machine learning. Our team also works in close collaboration with other labs in the UK and abroad. The successful applicant will work in a supportive team, and have the opportunity to present results at national and international conferences.

For this position, we are seeking enthusiastic, kind, open, and curious candidates with a background in natural sciences, biomechanics, mechanical engineering, physiology, physics or related fields. You must hold a Master’s degree (or have equivalent research experience) in biological, physical or engineering sciences. More information about who we are and the work that we do can be found on the group’s website, http://evo-biomech.ic.ac.uk/.

For further details on the studentship contact Dr. David Labonte (). Interested applicants should send an up-to-date CV to David Labonte.

Funding Notes

This position is funded for 3.5 years through an ERC Startign Grant to David Labonte. Applicants must be EU or UK citizens, and meet the eligibility criteria set by Imperial College.

How good is research at Imperial College London in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 99.55

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

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