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Social and transgenerational effects of parasitism: potential impact in a stored product pest

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  • Full or part time
    Dr E Cunningham
    Prof N Colegrave
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

This project will investigate the impact of infection on host and non-host members of a population across subsequent generations. What impact might these have in the biological control of a stored product pest?
Project background
Environmental variation, including the environment created by maternal and paternal effects, can have a major impact on offspring traits across generations. This transgenerational epi-genetic effects may have both positive and negative effects. In the context of infection and disease, for example, maternal immunity may both protect and block the development of the offspring’s immune system.

This project aims to examine how infection affects reproductive investment and life-history trade-offs and the subsequent transgenerational impact of infection via sex-specific effects of parasitism on sons and daughters. It will use the bean beetle, C. maculatus as a model organism: C. maculatus is a major of stored products in all but one continent and is responsible for considerable economic loss on a worldwide scale. It is also a key model organism in research due to their short generation time, sexual dimorphism, life-history and the ease at which their natural environment can be mimicked in the lab.

Our initial work has focused on parasitism with a natural parasite of insects, fungal agents that are also a candidate for biological control. Our data suggests infection reduces longevity but that females may shift resources to early reproduction and increase her egg laying rate. Such fecundity compensation could be an undesirable effect for a pest control strategy. Females may also alter allocation levels to offspring – what consequences would this have for the reproductive potential of surviving sons and daughters. Infected individuals may also decrease levels of competition within a population: what effect might this have on uninfected individuals in a population and overall levels of reproduction in the longer term?

Research questions
How does infection impact on host traits in different populations in different environments? Which type of traits are most likely to be affected by infection at different life stages? How does infection impact across generations? What are the social consequences of infection and how do effects via non-hosts combine to impact at the population level?

The project will involve designing and implementing controlled experiments to examine the impact of infection and immune challenge on different individuals in a population – both hosts, non-hosts and their family members. Populations can be created that mimic the pests species’ natural environment and conditions can be manipulated to mimic different environmental conditions. There is scope to measure the impact of infection on a range of life history traits at both individual and population level and to break these down into different components depending on the students area of interest eg egg provisioning, ejaculate components, physiological measures. Multi-generation experiments are easily conducted in the proposed system as is the tracking of individuals or populations over time.

Year 1: Research training, data management and statistical training, animal handling, lab and molecular techniques, planning and completion of first experinets

Year 2: Completion of transgenerational experiments, initial conference presentations, analysis and writing

Year 3: Completion of final experiments and lab work, PIP.

Year 4: Write up and option to visit lab abroad to pursue collaborative opportunities

A comprehensive training programme will be provided comprising both specialist scientific training and generic transferable and professional skills including experimental design, animal handling and husbandry and parasitological lab based skills as well as training in data management and analysis in a range of statistical packages including R. The project also provides the student the opportunity to interact with a number of bodies involved with biological control and pest management while addressing questions of fundamental biological interest to evolutionary ecologists.

Students need at least an upper 2.1 degree in a related biological subject and a first class undergraduate degree or MSc in ecology or evolution would be an advantage. All training will be provided but any related experience would be an advantage.

Funding Notes

Potentially available through Request an application pack from [Email Address Removed] no later than 12pm (GMT) on 13/12/2019 (note later closing date)

How good is research at University of Edinburgh in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 109.70

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

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