NERC GW4+ DTP PhD studentship: The impact of light at night on bee-plant interactions

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Science

Main supervisor: Dr Natalie Hempel de Ibarra (Psychology, University of Exeter)

Light influences many biological processes in plants and animals, and has been a major selection factor shaping plant-animal interactions. The widespread use of artificial lighting at night in the environment, associated with human settlements and areas of agricultural and other activities, has increased since the last century, massively altering natural daily and seasonal patterns of light (1). Evidence for this is found not only in urban settings, but also in natural ecosystems, and more research is urgently needed to understand the impact of light pollution. A quantitative analysis of how the spectral composition of various types of street lighting matches the visual sensitivities of animals has revealed that most animal taxa have a high potential to be affected by artificial light at night (2), but empirical evidence is still scarce. Here we aim to examine these predictions focusing on bees, the most important and abundant group of pollinators. Bees have a highly evolved visual system that primarily determines their flight, navigation and foraging behaviour (3). All bees are generalist nectar foragers and exploit all types of flowers to collect pollen, relying on their learning abilities, suites of refined motor patterns and additional multisensory information, such as chemical and mechanosensory cues in flowers (4). Their behaviour, physiology and ecology are very well understood, and advanced methods for investigating their behaviour and ecology have been developed. It is timely and feasible to investigate how bee activity and foraging performance are affected by light pollution. This interdisciplinary project brings together a skilled team of expert supervisors and will employ a combination of ecological, behavioural and modelling methods. In close collaboration with the South Devon AONB, observational and experimental data will be collected in the field, taking advantage of existing mappings of light pollution and dark skies in this area and support from local communities of landowners and farmers for environmental schemes and research. We will determine how patterns of activity and bee-plant interactions vary under different lighting conditions, considering spatial and temporal addition of light from artificial sources and natural variation of light cycles. This work will help to understand better how changes might affect bees at colony and population level, with regards to resource partitioning and nutrition, how efficiency of pollination for particular flower types that depend closely on bee pollination might be enhanced or compromised, and identify potential risks for pollination services at ecosystems level in hedge-dominated agricultural landscapes.

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus six Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Met Office, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science. For further details about the programme please see

See please for more details on how to apply.

Share this PhD
  Share by Email   Print this job   More sharing options
We value your feedback on the quality of our adverts. If you have a comment to make about the overall quality of this advert, or its categorisation then please send us your feedback
Advert information

Type / Role:



South West England