PhD Studentship: The Impact of Light at Night on Bee-Plant Interactions

University of Exeter - College of Life and Environmental Sciences

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

The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-2018, research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.


Lead supervisor: Dr Natalie Hempel de Ibarra
Co-Supervisor: Dr Kevin Gaston

Project description:

The widespread use of artificial lighting at night in the environment has increased since the last century, massively altering natural daily and seasonal patterns of light. Evidence for this is found not only in urban settings, but also in natural ecosystems, and more research is needed to understand the impact of light pollution. An 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, but empirical evidence is still scarce. Here we aim to examine these predictions focusing on bees, the most abundant group of pollinators.

Project Aims

Bees have a highly evolved visual system that primarily determines their flight, navigation and foraging behaviour. It is feasible to investigate how bee activity and foraging performance are affected by light pollution. This project brings together a skilled team of 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. 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.


We look for a candidate with deep interest in plant-animal interactions, preferrably with strong quantitative skills. Candidates with a background other than biological sciences should present willingness to develop skills needed for experimental field work. A driving license is desirable.

Case Award Description

Cash and in-kind contribution to stipend, research and placement expenses, placement with the CASE partner, support from the CASE partner during the whole duration of PhD with maps, logistics, equipment, contact with landowners for access to sites.

Funding Maximum

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2018 entry. The studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-18.

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South West England