PhD Studentship: Road Verges for Bumblebee Conservation: A Green Infrastructure Opportunity or an Ecological Trap? (CASE Studentship) (DICKS_UBIO18E)

University of East Anglia - School of Biological Sciences

Start Date: October 2018

No. of positions available: 1

Supervisor: Dr Lynn Dicks

Project description: Scientific background
Pollinators are declining and pollinator conservation is a global environmental priority. Bumblebees (Bombus spp.) are particularly threatened. One third of the bumblebee species whose conservation status has been assessed are declining. Many UK species have declined greatly in recent years, and two have become extinct in the UK since 1940. Road verges are often proposed as key habitat elements for bumblebee conservation. They have potential to provide substantial foraging and nesting resources to wild bees, and to link up areas of natural habitat in ecological networks.

Methods
This project will work with Highways England, Costain and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to critically examine the role of road verges in bumblebee conservation, using the following methods:

  • - Ecological sampling of flowers, wild bee visits and nesting bees on newly established (A14) and long established large trunk road verges, comparing different management approaches;
  • - Large-scale spatial mapping of nectar and pollen provision from road verges;
  • - Modelling impacts of resource provision from road verges on pollination services at regional and national levels;
  • - Analysis of pollutants (heavy metals and other toxins) in nectar and pollen sampled from road verges; laboratory experiments with bumblebee colonies to test the toxicity and responses to vibration.

The key research questions are: 

  1. Can flower-rich road verges provide good quality forage for bumblebees, or are they an ecological trap, exposing bees to high levels of toxic pollution and mortality?
  2. Do road verges provide nesting habitat for ground-nesting bees, or are they avoided due to vibrational noise?
  3. What environmental benefits can accrue from road verges, in terms of bumblebee conservation and enhanced crop pollination value in surrounding farmland?

Training opportunities
Academic training will include field ecology, entomology, advanced ecological statistics, GIS, environmental chemistry and conservation science. The student will complete a 3 month traineeship with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, working on a current road verge restoration project. There will be placement opportunities with Costain, focused on environmental management or sustainability in infrastructure engineering.

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with over twenty other research partners. Undertaking a PhD with the EnvEast DTP will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 12/13 February 2018.

For further information, please visit www.enveast.ac.uk/apply.

Person specification: A first degree in biology, ecology, environmental sciences or related subject, and a strong interest in wildlife conservation. EnvEast welcomes applicants from quantitative disciplines who may have limited background in environmental sciences. Excellent candidates will be considered for an award of an additional 3-month stipend to take appropriate advanced-level courses in the subject area.

Funding notes: Successful candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - in 2017/18, the stipend is £14,553. In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a stipend. For non-UK EU-resident applicants NERC funding can be used to cover fees, RTSG and training costs, but not any part of the stipend. Individual institutes may, however, elect to provide a stipend from their own resources. 

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Type / Role:

PhD

Location(s):

South East England