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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities

Lead Supervisor: Lynn Dicks, Zoology

Co-Supervisor: Richard Comont, Bumblebee Conservation Trust and Richard Davies, University of East Anglia

This is a CASE project with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust

Brief summary: 
This project will use new molecular and field survey techniques to explore the role of habitat networks and landscape structure in wild bumblebee conservation.
Importance of the area of research concerned: 
There have been widespread declines in UK bumblebees. Over a third of our species have declined by 70% or more in range since 1900; many common species and most cuckoo bumblebees have declined in abundance during the last decade. Land use and land management are considered the main drivers of declines in pollinator populations. Efforts to mitigate these effects in agricultural landscapes have focused largely on restoring field-scale habitat features including florally-enhanced hedgerows, forest edges and field margins (Dicks et al 2015), rather than on landscape-scale management. However, early and late summer flowering resources at landscape scale are known to be particularly important for maintaining bumblebee population density (Timberlake et al 2020), and these are not well provided by standard pollinator conservation measures (Cole et al 2020). New Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMs) are being designed and tested to reward farmers in England for environmental benefits. The ability of the ELM schemes to support wild pollinators such as bumblebees is an essential aspect of their success.
Project summary : 
This project aims to examine the relative roles of landscape structure and government-supported changes to land management for bumblebee conservation, using a combination of ecological sampling, large-scale spatial data analysis, DNA sequencing and field experiments with laboratory-reared bumblebee colonies. The key research questions are: 1) To what extent do specific habitat features, such as woodland, provide essential forage and nesting resources to key functional groups of wild bumblebees in UK arable landscapes in spring and late summer? 2) Is there a difference between bumblebee species in their use of forage plants or association with specific habitats (e.g. Crowther et al 2014)? What is the appropriate scale for habitat restoration and habitat networks, to provide optimum support for a diverse and resilient of community of wild bumblebees?
What will the student do?: 
The student will conduct fieldwork in UK arable landscapes with varying densities of habitat. A likely focal area is the West Cambridgeshire Hundreds Living Landscape, designated for its wildlife-rich ancient woodlands, where the Agroecology group has a landscape-scale farm management experiment. Fieldwork will involve surveying bumblebees and flowering plants to map densities and forage resources at landscape scale, under experimental changes in land management; monitoring growth rates and pollen collection in laboratory-reared bumblebee colonies placed in landscapes with different types or densities of woodland; behavioural and/or genetic studies of bumblebees and their collected pollen, to reveal colony densities, lineage survival and pollen preferences, among species and in different landscape settings. Laboratory work may involve DNA extraction and library preparation, PCR, metabarcoding, microsatellite analysis or metagenomic techniques, as well as learning to rear and manage bumblebee colonies from wild-caught queens. There is potential to test the use of radio telemetry to monitor bumblebee movements.
References - references should provide further reading about the project: 
Dicks, L.V. et al., 2015. How much flower-rich habitat is enough for wild pollinators? Answering a key policy question with incomplete knowledge. Ecol Entom, 40 (S1): 22-35. DOI:
Cole, L.J. et al., 2020. A critical analysis of the potential for EU Common Agricultural Policy measures to support wild pollinators on farmland. J Appl Ecol, 57(4): 681-694.
Timberlake, T.P., Vaughan, I.P., Baude, M. and Memmott, J., 2020. Bumblebee colony density on farmland is influenced by late-summer nectar supply and garden cover. J Appl Ecol58: 1006-1016.
You can find out about applying for this project on the Department of Zoology page.
Dr Lynn Dicks
Department of Zoology Graduate Administrator