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Winter activity in the buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris): how is diapause controlled in a commercially important pollinator?

Project Description

Research Group: Applied Ecology Research Group (AERG)

Proposed supervisory team
Dr Tom Ings (()
Dr Paty Celis ()

Global Change Ecology

Summary of the research project

Global pollinator declines are a major issue that will affect us all through loss of pollination services essential for the maintenance of natural ecosystems and crop production. To predict and mitigate against further declines it is essential to gain a better understanding of how pollinators respond to environmental change. Climate change is leading to asynchrony between environmental cues (e.g. temperature and day length) making some unreliable for timing of key life history events like diapause – a specialized dormant state animals use to survive environmental stress. Our research has recently shown that one commercially important pollinator, the buff-tailed bumblebee, Bombus terretsris, has dramatically switched from a single generation per year, with new queens diapausing during the winter, to having a second winter generation in parts of the UK. This reflects behaviour seen in related populations in southern Europe. We thus need to assess behavioural plasticity in response to global change by focussing on the mechanisms that control key life history events. Diapause in temperate insects is mostly controlled by photoperiod (day length), but this has not been tested in bumblebees. Therefore, we propose to determine the genetic basis of diapause and the role of photoperiod in different populations of B. terrestris. This will help us to understand why bumblebees are active in winter and provide essential foundations for future research into pollinator responses to climate change. Outputs from this project are directly relevant to maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services such as pollination. Increased knowledge of the factors which determine diapause induction could also directly benefit bee breeders (e.g. Koppert and Biobest) by enabling them to increase the efficiency of their breeding programs and hence supply of pollinators. In addition, our study will benefit bee enthusiasts (e.g. members of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and British Bee Keepers Association).

Where you’ll study

Cambridge (

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Biology PhD ( In the section of the application form entitled ’Outline research proposal’, please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

Funding Notes

This project is self-funded.
Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website (View Website) as they become available.

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