Hard-wired for Success? Unravelling Genomic Signatures in Pollinators


Hard-wired for Success? Unravelling Genomic Signatures in Pollinators


Project Description


Professor Mairi Knight (School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth) contact me

Professor Andrew Bourke (School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia)

Dr Wilfried Haerty (The Earlham Institute)

Dr Jonathan Ellis (School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth)

Project Background


Many pollinator species, recognised as essential for ecosystem function, are undergoing rapid declines. One recent exception is the ‘Tree Bumblebee’ Bombus hyponorum: 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. While focused on one taxonomic group, the project has much broader relevance in understanding organismal responses to environmental change.

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 an enhanced ability to adapt to anthropogenically altered landscapes. However, current data are preliminary and lack essential phylogenetic comparison.

This is an exciting opportunity to generate a substantial and highly novel 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 candidate significant scope to guide the project’s further direction through characterisation of genomic signatures and differences across this important group.


The project will equip the successful candidate 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. Full training will be provided by the supervisory team. The candidate will also gain important soft skills (e.g. communication, team working, problem solving). He/she will be based in Plymouth, spending short periods at partner Institutions as relevant.

Person Specification

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 knowledge of, and interest in, genetic and evolutionary analysis. Experience of genomic sequencing and bioinformatics is not essential, although experience/interest in programming (e.g. Python) would be an additional benefit.


  • 1. Huml JV, Ellis JS, Lloyd K, Benefer CM, Kiernan M, Brown MJF, Knight ME (in review, MS available) Bucking the trend of pollinator decline: the population genetics of a range expanding bumblebee.
  • 2. Crowther LP, Wright DJ, Richardson DS, Carvell C, Bourke AFG (2019) Spatial ecology of a range-expanding bumble bee pollinator. Ecology and Evolution 9: 986-997.
  • 3. Crowther LP, Hein P-L, Bourke AFG (2014) Habitat and forage associations of a naturally colonising insect pollinator, the tree bumblebee Bombus hypnorum. PLOS ONE 9(9): e107568
  • 4. Theodorou P, Radzeviciute R, Kahnt B, Soro A, Grosse I, Paxton RJ (2018) Genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism scan suggests adaptation to urbanization in an important pollinator, the red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius L.). Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 285, 20172806.
  • 5. Arbetman MP, Gleiser G, Morales CL, Williams P, Aizen MA (2017) Global decline of bumblebees is phylogenetically structured and inversely related to species range size and pathogen incidence. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 284, 20170204.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2021. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2021.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£15,285 p.a. for 2020-21) and research funding. For the first time in 2021/22 international applicants (EU and non-EU) will be eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships. Please note ARIES funding does not cover visa costs (including immigration health surcharge) or other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses in the subject area.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside significant relevant non-academic experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship click on the “Apply now” link below.

Get in Touch

aries.dtp@uea.ac.uk /