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PhD Studentship: Nurture Versus Nature in Locusts - Can we Control their Swarming Behaviour?

University of Hull

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Kingston upon Hull
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: From £18,622 per annum (22/23 rate)
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 30th November 2023
Closes: 5th January 2024

Supervisors: Dr Darron Cullen, Dr Domino Joyce, Prof Rob Knell

Enquiries: eei@hull.ac.uk

Project description:

Are you interested in animal behaviour, and its physiological control? Would you like to perform research that could inform new agricultural practices? Then this is the PhD for you!

Locusts are the best-known pests of worldwide agriculture, with up to 10% of the world’s human population at risk of devastating plagues. Key to their destructive behaviour is their extreme phenotypic plasticity, in which their genome will give rise to a benign ‘solitarious phase’ at low population densities or a swarming ‘gregarious phase’ at high densities. Locusts can rapidly change phase, meaning that local environmental conditions, including the availability of food and egg-laying areas, ultimately dictate whether solitary individuals are forced to band together and swarm (gregarization), or gregarious locusts are conversely forced to ‘go it alone’ (solitarization).

The mechanisms by which locusts detect one another, and how this leads to their gregarization and swarming, has been extensively studied, but the reverse process of solitarization has received far less attention. This is because locust management has historically focused on the prevention of swarm initiation, rather than trying to break up swarms once they’ve started. However, climate change is altering the spatial and temporal distribution of swarms, making them harder to predict, meaning that reactive swarm dispersal methods look set to become increasingly necessary.

This project will determine some of the sensory and physiological mechanisms controlling locust behavioural plasticity, while providing the student with a diverse range of skills and a clear path to publication. The project focus will be the infamous desert locust, but will also include economically important yet understudied species such as the red, brown and Moroccan locusts, supplied by our worldwide collaborators. The student will isolate gregarious locusts to drive solitarization, before assessing social, sexual and aggressive behaviours using AI-powered video tracking.

This opportunity would suit a graduate in Biology or Zoology, with interests in animal behaviour, entomology, physiology and molecular biology. This is primarily a laboratory-based project, and will involve the rearing and maintenance of insect colonies and various feed plants. Some lab experience would be useful, but is not essential – the only important thing is that you’re not afraid of insects!

This project will provide students with a full PhD studentship. This consists of:

  • a personal stipend (tax-free allowance that you don’t have to pay back) at Research Council UK (UKRI) rates for 3.5 years
  • university fees
  • generous support for research costs, fieldwork, training and conference travel.

Eligibility:

  • Minimum 2:1 Bachelors’ degree in a field linked to the PhD project. Note that we have recruited successful PhD candidates that changed fields completely. Quite often your skills are more important than specific knowledge that you have.
  • You can apply straight after a Bachelors’ degree, but you will need to show how you are competitive with those with a Masters.
  • Draw on skills you have developed in situations other than your undergraduate project e.g. student work experience, programming etc.

Apply now, by clicking the 'Apply' button, above.

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