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Reducing insect pests on cereal crops by exploiting beneficial species interactions

Project Description

This project will use a combination of greenhouse and chemical analyses to understand how beneficial soil microbes reduce sap-feeding insect pests through plant-mediated effects on the insect itself and by recruiting natural enemies of the pest. Climate change is expanding insect pest range distributions and shifting insect phenology leading to desynchronization with natural enemy populations and resulting in increased chances of pest outbreaks. With increasing levels of insecticide resistance within pest populations, we need to find alternative solutions for pest control in our cropping systems. Promising strategies include manipulating soil microbiomes for increased plant resistance to pests and promoting recruitment of natural enemies for pest control services in crop fields.
Greenhouse experiments will use multifactorial experiments to unravel important interactions that have strong potential for reducing pest numbers in crop fields. This work will involve training on experimental design, plant-microbe-insect handling, and statistical and bioinformatics analyses. Chemical analysis will focus on plant chemicals that can alter insect growth rates and enhance the effectiveness of natural enemies for pest population control. This analysis will be undertaken in the Centre for Metabolomics Research at Liverpool University. The student will also spend time at the co-supervisors research group in Newcastle University, where they will use transcriptomic analysis on insect samples to address the molecular response within the insect. These three aspects of the project are complementary and will come together to produce a fuller understanding of how beneficial soil microbes can reduce pest populations in our crop systems.

Applications should be made by emailing with a CV (including contact details of at least two academic (or other relevant) referees), and a covering letter – clearly stating your first choice project, and optionally 2nd and 3rd ranked projects, as well as including whatever additional information you feel is pertinent to your application; you may wish to indicate, for example, why you are particularly interested in the selected project(s) and at the selected University. Applications not meeting these criteria will be rejected.
In addition to the CV and covering letter, please email a completed copy of the Additional Details Form (Word document) to . A blank copy of this form can be found at:
Informal enquiries may be made to

Funding Notes

This is a 4 year BBSRC studentship under the Newcastle-Liverpool-Durham DTP. The successful applicant will receive research costs, tuition fees and stipend (£15,009 for 2019-20). The PhD will start in October 2020. Applicants should have, or be expecting to receive, a 2.1 Hons degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject. EU candidates must have been resident in the UK for 3 years in order to receive full support. Please note, there are 2 stages to the application process.


Climate change alters beneficial crop-microbe-invertebrate interactions. 2019 BioRxiv:709089

Community genetic interactions mediate indirect ecological effects between a parasitoid wasp and rhizobacteria. 2010. Ecology 91:1563-1568

Effect of plant chemical variation and mutualistic ants on the local population genetic structure of an aphid herbivore. 2019. J Anim Ecol 88:1089-1099

Chemotypic variation in terpenes emitted from storage pools influences early aphid colonisation on tansy. 2016. Scientific Reports 6:38087

Additive effects of plant chemotype, mutualistic ants and predators on aphid performance and survival. 2019. Functional Ecology 33:139-151

Metabotype variation in a field population of tansy plants influences aphid host selection. 2018. Plant Cell and Environment 41:2791-2805

Reduce pests, enhance production: Benefits of intercropping at high densities for okra farmers in Cameroon. 2017. Pest Management Science 73:2017-2027

Induced expression of defence-related genes in barley is specific to aphid genotype. 2016. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 117:672-685

Effects of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes on the protective microbiome of insects - a review. 2019. Entomologia Experimentalis Et Applicata 167:2-13

The effect of plant within-species variation on aphid ecology. 2016. In Biology and Ecology of Aphids. CRC Press.

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