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QUADRAT DTP CASE: Insect fast food? Impact of urban areas on the dietary choices of insects


   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr Juliano Morimoto, Dr Paul Caplat, Prof D Burslem, Dr Marius Wenzel  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Urban areas are growing at a fast pace to accommodate the rural-to-urban area migration and to cope with increasing human population size. As a result, urban areas play an important role in the balance of our ecosystems, contributing to – or often, hampering – biodiversity conservation.  

Green spaces in urban areas form islands where wild life could occupy amidst the ‘concrete jungle’, but only if these green spaces are designed to fully integrate the needs of the local biodiversity. Otherwise, urban areas can accentuate the risk of species extinction, by creating spaces that are essentially inhospitable for some species. For instance, urban green spaces may be artificially generated with non-native plants and/or low plant diversity, forcing native species to feed on plants which they are not adapted to and may, in many cases, not survive. This phenomenon has the potential to decrease the abundance of native diet specialists while increasing the abundance of non-native diet generalists (e.g., invasive species).  

Thus, this project asks the question: ‘are green spaces in urban areas suitable for supporting biodiversity?’ 

The project will focus on insects, a group that is essential for the health of ecosystems but also a group that (1) is vulnerable to changes in the landscape (e.g., urbanisation) (2) have economic and public health roles in our societies (e.g., pests, mosquitoes) (3) have cultural importance (Duffus et al., 2021) and (4) have been overlooked in conservation policies and thus, have recently been the focus on ongoing debate as to its extinction risk (e.g., Duffus and Morimoto, 2022).   

The project will first sample the biodiversity of insects in two urban (Aberdeen and Belfast cities), peri-urban (shire) and nearby rural areas with a gradient from high to low landscape management (e.g., farms vs wilderness).  This will be done to characterise the baseline biodiversity of the sampling areas. Next, two focal generalist and two focal specialist insect species, which are present across all the sampling locations, will be chosen for the analysis of dietary choice. Specimens will be collected across the sampling locations and analysed for their dietary content, using next generation sequence for microbiome characterisation and DNA barcoding for diet breadth and diversity. This will enable us to characterise the diet choices of generalist and specialist insects across landscape management and urbanisation gradients.  

Training provided includes:  

Assess invertebrate diversity with various sampling techniques to determine insect biodiversity across sampling locations. You will develop of a DNA fingerprint database of insect species in the study areas.  

Identification of species across life-stages, from larvae through to adult forms. 

Molecular analysis (including microbiome analysis) for dietary habits characterisation  

You will travel to and be based at Belfast (QUB) for approximately 25% of your time, carrying out field work in spring, summer and autumn. Approximately 75% of your time will be mainly or exclusively spent in School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen carrying out DNA barcoding, analysis, and all other aspects of the project. Sampling will be done with sweeping nets (e.g., butterflies), light traps (moths) and pitfall traps (e.g., beetles and other invertebrates). 

Candidate Background: The candidate should have strong critical thinking and organisational skills. They should be willing to work with insects and to learn fieldwork and laboratory skills. Creativity and problem solving skills will be essential for the success of this project. A background in entomology, molecular biology and field sampling are desirable, but not essential.

More project details are available here: https://www.quadrat.ac.uk/quadrat-projects/

How to apply: https://www.quadrat.ac.uk/how-to-apply/ 


Funding Notes

QUADRAT studentships are open to UK and overseas candidates. Funding covers:
• A monthly stipend for accommodation and living costs, based on UKRI rates (currently £17,668 pa for 2022/23, updated annually)
• Fees (home rate tuition fees and/or fee waiver for overseas fees, where applicable)
• Research and training costs
For further information before applying please check full funding and eligibility information: https://www.quadrat.ac.uk/funding-and-eligibility/

References

1. Herbertsson, L., Ekroos, J., Albrecht, M., Bartomeus, I., Batáry, P., Bommarco, R., ... & Smith, H. G. (2021). Bees increase seed set of wild plants while the proportion of arable land has a variable effect on pollination in European agricultural landscapes. Plant ecology and evolution, 154(3), 341-350.
2. Duffus, N. E., & Morimoto, J. (2022). Current conservation policies in the UK and Ireland overlook endangered insects and are taxonomically biased towards Lepidoptera. Biological Conservation, 266, 109464.
3. Duffus, N. E., Christie, C. R., & Morimoto, J. (2021). Insect cultural services: how insects have changed our lives and how can we do better for them. Insects, 12(5), 377.
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