Project proposal details

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Project title
How does temperature modulate the effect of pesticide exposure on bee foraging motivation?
Contact name
Richard Gill
Project based at
Silwood Park (Imperial)
Project description
The use of pesticides in the environment has been implicated as a factor driving insect pollinator declines, and a subject of intense ongoing debate. A growing body of work on bees has shown that exposure to field realistic levels of pesticides, whilst not being lethal, can cause impaired foraging performance. For example, work in the Gill lab has shown that foragers exposed to neonicotinoid pesticides bring back less pollen when foraging in the wild. However, the mechanism(s) by which foraging performance is impacted is currently not clear, especially as we have a limited understanding as to what their foraging decisions were. A possible explanation, is that the exposure alters aspects of motivation of foragers, such as what and how much food to collect being affected. Furthermore, we understand little as to how the environmental context can vary the sublethal effects of pesticide exposure. Under hot conditions workers are predicted to collect more nectar, but if such decision making was to be disrupted through pesticide intoxication then workers may collect suboptimal nectar and pollen ratios. Moreover, temperature is likely to change the degree of pesticide toxicity and hence other aspects of foraging behaviour may be affected. This desk-based project will take advantage of a previous mesocosm experiment where bumblebee colonies were able to freely-forage on separate artificial pollen and nectar feeders over a 2-week period. Half the mesocosms had feeders spiked with a neonicotinoid the other half being untreated, and the diurnal patterns of ambient temperature were recorded. The student will have some flexibility in the questions to be asked, and will be able to analyse: i) automated recordings of forager patterns and feeder visits (as every worker was microchipped with an RFID tag); ii) video recordings of bees leaving and returning to colonies with food; and iii) hourly temperature recordings throughout the experiment. We expect that if the student conducts high quality analyses and produce a good report, a high impact publication will be produced.
Additional requirements
There are no prerequisites for this project but familiarity with data analysis in R would be useful.
Available support
The Gill lab has lost of experience with bumblebee experiments and use of script and statistical models to analyse foraging behaviour. The student will work closely with Danny Kenna who is studying the effects of pesticide and temperature on bee behaviour as part of her PhD.
Date uploaded

Project proposal limitations

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Research project proposals are usually part of an active research programme. If supervisors have stated limitations to a proposal, then they are unlikely to have any flexibility. If you are very interested in the topic but have problems with the stated limitations, the supervisor may still be happy to talk to you about other options around the proposal, but you should not expect that any alternative arrangements can be made.

Project length limitations
5 months, 9 months
Available date limitations
Autumn (Sept-Oct), Winter (January), Spring (April-May)
Suitable for
Ecology Evolution and Conservation, Computational Methods in Ecology and Evolution (MSc), Computational Methods in Ecology and Evolution (MRes), Ecological Applications, Ecosystem and Environmental Change MRes