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Understanding the roles of behavioural ecology, genes, plant hosts and fuel for flight to predict the migratory range of aphids. BBSRC SWBio DTP PhD studentship 2023 Entry - PhD in Biosciences

   Department of Biosciences

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  Dr J Bell, Prof C Bass  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The BBSRC-funded South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP) involves a partnership of world-renown universities, research institutes and industry across the South West and Wales.

This partnership represents a distinctive group of bioscientists, with established international, national and regional networks, and widely recognised research excellence.

We aim to provide students with outstanding interdisciplinary research training within the following themes, underpinned by transformative technologies:

These are growth areas of the biosciences and for which there will be considerable future demand.

The award:

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP). 

Programme Overview

You will be recruited to a broad, interdisciplinary project, supported by a multidisciplinary supervisory team, with many cross-institutional projects available. There are also opportunities to:

• apply your research in an industrial setting (DTP CASE studentships).

• undertake research jointly with our core and associate partners (Standard DTP studentships with an   


• work with other national/international researchers.

• undertake fieldwork.

Our structured training programme will ensure you are well equipped as a bioscience researcher, supporting careers into academia, industry and beyond. 

Project Description

Since Darwin, the role of insect flight has been hotly debated and remains an exciting topic of study. The biology of insect flight attracts widespread public interest and examples range from citizen science projects on bees and butterflies through to TV programs such as Attenborough's Conquest of the Skies. For a few enigmatic species like the monarch butterfly and desert locust, the migration routes of these insects are reasonably well understood. For other species, science has yet to provide sufficient evidence on their likely migration routes, despite their ecosystem service functions. The challenge arises because these insects are much smaller than butterflies and locusts, which means that they cannot be tracked by human eye or even with computer vision systems, but instead disappear quickly out of view into the atmosphere soon after take‐ off. The near absence of data makes this project challenging but also exciting, likely to yield impactful media interactions and excellent publication material to advance the field.

This PhD will rise to the challenge by deploying indirect scientific methods in trajectory modelling, carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses, molecular biology and behavioural ecology experiments, to understand where highly damaging pest aphids flew from. The project is supported by the world‐class Rothamsted Insect Survey's data, samples and entomological expertise alongside Exeter's recent advances in applied entomology using molecular tools, such as transcriptomics, to identify the genes involved during flight. The successful student will also learn about atmospheric models to predict the likely track of insects, working alongside staff from the Met Office, as well as the application of isotope ratio mass spectrometry to detect carbon and nitrogen isotopes on the surface of the insects and host material, both experienced by the student as rotations in year 1.

This cross‐disciplinary PhD will equip the student with a broad range of skills to develop their career as well as provide sufficient interest to challenge them. Ultimately, the main outcome of the PhD will be to better understand the likely source of migrants by reviewing the wide‐ranging evidence from atmospheric models, isotopes, genes and behaviour. If you are excited by the question, did individuals travel hundreds of miles from continental Europe or take a short flight within the same field? Then please apply, whatever your background.

How to apply

Please be aware you will be asked to upload the following documents:

  • CV
  • Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project. Please indicate your preferred project choice if applying for multiple BBSRC SWBio DTP projects.
  • Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained. This should be an interim transcript if you are still studying.
  • Two academic referees - see information below about references.
  • If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English (see entry requirements above)

The closing date for applications is midnight on Monday, 5 December 2022. Interviews will be held between 1st and 15th February 2023.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email [Email Address Removed].

Project-specific queries should be directed to the primary supervisor.

For further information including entry requirements and academic criteria, and to submit and application please visit - https://www.exeter.ac.uk/study/funding/award/?id=4631

Selection Process:

Please note, the studentship selection process will take place in two stages:

For further information please go to - https://www.swbio.ac.uk/programme/selection-process/

Funding Notes

A fully-funded four year SWBio DTP studentship will cover
• a stipend* (at the standard Research Council UK rate; currently £17,668 per annum for 2022-23)
• research and training costs
• tuition fees (at the standard Research Councils UK rate)
• additional funds to support fieldwork, conferences and a 3-month internship
*An enhanced stipend is available for students with a recognised veterinary degree qualification (£24,789 per annum for 2022-2023). There may also be enhanced stipends associated with projects that have a CASE partner (CASE projects are highlighted as *CASE in the project lists).
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