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The context dependence of disease spread and virulence in a pollinator system

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, January 13, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Understanding the factors placing insect pollinators at risk is a research priority with our future food security reliant on the health of these important organisms. Bees are vital insect pollinators, making the high rates of colony losses observed in recent years a global issue. Whilst we know the drivers of bee losses are multifactorial, such as disease, pesticides, and land use change, we fall short of understanding how these three stressors interact. Indeed, a major challenge in host-parasite ecology is understanding the context-dependence of disease dynamics, and how disease severity is altered by multiple interacting stressors.

This studentship will focus on honeybees and one of the most destructive diseases they experience: European foul brood (EFB). This globally distributed disease causes significant damage to the beekeeping industry, and in the UK, EFB is one of only two microbial bee diseases considered so harmful that positive detection requires immediate notification to the authorities. Severe cases of the disease often result in the destruction/burning of the hive to prevent further spread. Yet despite the impact this disease can have, we currently have little understanding as to how additional stressors influence the severity and spread of this disease, nor the ultimate influence this has on honey bee health.

The student will explore the mechanism behind transmission of the causal bacteria of the disease (Melissococcus plutonius), before determining if key stressors (Land and pesticide use) influence the severity of the disease. Thanks to generous funding from CB Dennis British Beekeepers Research Trust and Bee Diseases Insurance Ltd, this directly-funded studentship will employ a suite of cutting-edge scientific techniques to address questions on what modulates the transmission and virulence of this disease. The project will add substantially to our understanding of the vulnerability of bees to this significantly destructive disease and the results will facilitate the formation of evidence-led disease management strategies.

The student will gain a set of interdisciplinary skills including field work, next generation DNA sequencing and bioinformatics, pesticide residue analysis, microbiology and honeybee keeping. The student will gain training and collaboration from leading scientists including supervisor Dr Peter Graystock (Imperial College London), Dr Richard Gill (Imperial College London), and Dr Sophie Evison (University of Nottingham), plus assistance from the National Bee Unit/Defra. Based at the Silwood Park campus, the student will join the world leading university of Imperial College and benefit from being surrounded by top researchers in the disciplines of ecology, evolution and conservation. Facilities include >100 hectares of field site, new controlled environment rooms, microbiology facility, labs tailored for bee research and spacious workspace.

How to apply

Please send your CV, a one page cover letter explaining why you are suitable for this project, and the names and e-mail addresses of two referees to Dr Peter Graystock by 13th January 2020.

Informal enquiries are welcomed and should be sent to Dr Peter Graystock

Student eligibility

The studentship is funded by the CB Dennis British Beekeepers Research Trust and Bee Diseases Insurance Ltd. Applicants should have a BSc degree at 2.1 or higher in Biology, Ecology, Microbiology or similar and to hold, or be about to obtain, a Masters degree. Exceptional students at Bachelors level without a Masters will also be considered. The project will start in September 2020.

Funding Notes

The studentship covers a stipend for 3 years at current research council rates of £17,009 per year tax free, and tuition fees for UK and EU citizens.

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