Dr Mairi Knight, School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth
Prof Andrew Bourke, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia
Dr Jon Ellis, School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth
Many pollinator species, recognised as essential for ecosystem function, are undergoing rapid declines. One recent exception is the ‘Tree Bumblebee’ Bombus hypnorum: expanding its range into and across the UK in <20 years, it is now one of our most common species.
Building on previous work from the supervisory team, and in collaboration with the Earlham Institute, this project will investigate key genomic differences between this and other bumblebee (Bombus) species to substantially improve our understanding of the factors contributing to its success, along with the declines of others. The project’s focus is a genomic comparison of Bombus species from within the UK and continental Europe. Initial work has identified genomic regions of interest in B. hypnorum that may be indicative of its ability to adapt to anthropogenically altered landscapes. However, current data are preliminary and lack essential phylogenetic comparison.
This is a timely and exciting opportunity to generate a highly novel, and substantial, genomic dataset to test hypotheses as to whether the observed genomic differences are unique to B. hypnorum, or shared among Bombus species (some evidence suggests elevated resilience in the wider Pyrobombus sub-genus). In addition to fulfilling the specific aims, the data generated will offer the student significant scope to guide the project’s further direction through characterisation of genomic signatures and differences across this important pollinator group.
The project will equip the successful student with state-of-the-art genomic techniques as well as bioinformatic and modelling skills that are highly transferable and increasingly essential across a wide range of academic and applied biological disciplines. The student will also gain important soft skills (e.g. communication, team working, problem solving). He/she will be based in Plymouth, spending short periods at the other Institutions as relevant.
The successful candidate will have a biology-based degree, an academic interest in evolutionary ecology, and be enthusiastic about pursuing a laboratory- and computer-based project. Ideally, he/she will have some basic molecular ecology experience (e.g. DNA extraction, PCR) and interest in genetic and evolutionary analysis. Experience of genome sequencing and bioinformatics is not essential as full training will be provided.