PhD Studentship: Sensory Ecology of Electroreception in insects

University of Bristol - School of Biological Sciences

The project:

A 4-year PhD studentship is now available at the School of Biological Sciences. The studentship is supported by an ERC Advanced Investigator Award and is open to UK and EU postgraduates. The project is entitled “mechanisms of electroreception in bees and other terrestrial animals”, and seeks to explore the sensory ecology and mechanisms of electroreception in air.

For this PhD studentship, the research programme will aim at better understanding the sensory interactions between insects and plants in the contexts of pollination and predation. Our recent research has shown that bees can detect and learn about the presence of electric fields surrounding flowers – a form of electroreception. Based on electrostatic build up, this kind of interaction may be present in many more insects and have different functions. Much research remains to be done to understand to the presence, function and diversity of electroreception in insects.

The host laboratory offers a highly interdisciplinary research environment, where biologists and physicists work together. Further collaborative supervision is offered with Prof G. Harrison from the University of Reading, and his team. The studentship is therefore integral part of a team of leaders in their fields, including postdoctoral researchers and PhD students. The successful candidate will be given training and opportunities to gain experience in a range of techniques and disciplines, ranging from behavioural techniques to study the sensitivity of bees to weak electric fields to X-ray tomography. Training in other methods used routinely in the lab will be provided, such as measurements of local electric charge and electric fields surrounding bees and flowers.

The School of Biological Sciences at Bristol University also offers rich support in the form of postgraduate mentors, regular review meetings with two internal scientific advisers, and specifically tailored postgraduate training lectures on topics from experimental design through statistical analysis to lab safety. In addition, the student has access to an extensive programme of personal and professional skills development courses through the Doctoral College and the University Career Service.

Supervisory team:

Prof Daniel Robert, School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, UK

Prof Giles Harrison, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, UK

References to directly related literature:

Clarke D, Whitney H, Sutton G, Robert D (2013) Detection and learning of floral electric fields by bumblebees. Science 340:66-69

Sutton G, Clarke D, Morley E, Robert D (2016) Mechanosensory hairs in bumble bees (Bombus terrestris) detect weak electric fields. PNAS 113:7261-7265

How to apply:

Please make an online application for this project at Please select <EU funding> on the Programme Choice page. You will be prompted to enter details of the studentship in the Funding and Research Details sections of the form.

Candidate requirements: Holding a degree (Hons, MSc or equivalent) in the relevant disciplines of Biology or Physics.

Funding: from ERC Advanced Investigator to Supervisor.

Contacts: More information can be found at: For further details of application procedure or informal enquiry, please contact Prof D. Robert at <>.

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