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Self-funded research project: Quality-distance trade-offs in resource-sharing networks of wood ants

   Department of Biology

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  Dr Elva Robinson  No more applications being accepted  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Self-funded MSc by Research: Quality-distance trade-offs in resource-sharing networks of wood ants


Many animals collect resources and defend them from others; peaceful sharing of resources between groups is very rare. In some species of ant, resource-sharing networks emerge, with ants from different nests exchanging food without any conflict. Theoretical modelling predicts that these 'polydomous' colony networks are shaped by the trade-off between exploiting nearby resources, and travelling further to access higher quality resources. The proposed work will test this idea by directly measuring the nature and quality of the honeydew resources collected by the ants and shared between nests. The project will include fieldwork on a population of the wood ant' Formica lugubris, at a long-term study site in the UK.


1 To test theoretical quality-distance trade-off hypotheses in the field.

2 To assess the role of resource quality in shaping cooperation networks in wood ants


This project will involve both fieldwork and laboratory analyses, and involve working with theoretical modellers. Fieldwork will involve mapping colonies and collecting samples of resources; lab work will involve proteomic techniques to analysing food resources. Training in these techniques and in interpreting network models will be provided.


The results will provide insights into how these extreme cooperative networks emerge and function, providing novel information about an unusual behaviour, and into the drivers of cooperation between groups, something of wide interest. More locally, the information gathered will feed into the management of the site to promote population health: as this species is an ecosystem engineer, this has knock-on positive effects for the whole forest community.

Project Partners

This project will be supervised by Dr Elva Robinson, University of York and Dr Adria LeBoeuf, University of Fribourg. The work will be in partnership with site managers at The National Trust to ensure management information is disseminated effectively.

More information

The Department of Biology at the University of York is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or career pathway to date. We understand that commitment and excellence can be shown in many ways and have built our recruitment process to reflect this. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds, particularly those underrepresented in science, who have curiosity, creativity and a drive to learn new skills.

Funding Notes

This is a self-funded research project. Applicants need to have adequate funds to meet the costs of tuition fees and living expenses for the duration of the programme. The National Trust will cover the costs of fieldwork and consumables.


ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: Students with, or expecting to gain, at least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent, are invited to apply. The interdisciplinary nature of this programme means that we welcome applications from students with backgrounds in any biological, chemical, and/or physical science, or students with mathematical backgrounds who are interested in using their skills in addressing biological questions.

START DATE: 1st October 2022
PROGRAMME: MSc by Research in Biology
DURATION: 12 months full-time or 24 months part-time

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