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Applications are now open for PhD studentships starting in October 2018. 

Please read the recruitment introduction for more information about eligibility, how to apply, and possibilities for further funding.

The deadline for applications is 8 January 2018.

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DICKS_UBIO18EE - Road verges for bumblebee conservation: a green infrastructure opportunity or an ecological trap? (CASE studentship with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust; Highways England; Costain Ltd)

Project description

Selected other project supervisors
Dr Simon Butler (UEA)

Scientific background
Pollinators are declining and pollinator conservation is a global environmental priority. Bumblebees (Bombus spp.) are particularly threatened. One third of the bumblebee species whose conservation status has been assessed are declining. Many UK species have declined greatly in recent years, and two have become extinct in the UK since 1940. Road verges are often proposed as key habitat elements for bumblebee conservation. They have potential to provide substantial foraging and nesting resources to wild bees, and to link up areas of natural habitat in ecological networks.

This project will work with Highways England, Costain and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to critically examine the role of road verges in bumblebee conservation, using the following methods:

  • Ecological sampling of flowers, wild bee visits and nesting bees on newly established (A14) and long established large trunk road verges, comparing different management approaches;
  • Large-scale spatial mapping of nectar and pollen provision from road verges;
  • Modelling impacts of resource provision from road verges on pollination services at regional and national levels;
  • Analysis of pollutants (heavy metals and other toxins) in nectar and pollen sampled from road verges; laboratory experiments with bumblebee colonies to test the toxicity and responses to vibration.


The key research questions are:

  • Can flower-rich road verges provide good quality forage for bumblebees, or are they an ecological trap, exposing bees to high levels of toxic pollution and mortality?
  • Do road verges provide nesting habitat for ground-nesting bees, or are they avoided due to vibrational noise?
  • What environmental benefits can accrue from road verges, in terms of bumblebee conservation and enhanced crop pollination value in surrounding farmland?


Training opportunities
Academic training will include field ecology, entomology, advanced ecological statistics, GIS, environmental chemistry and conservation science. The student will complete a 3 month traineeship with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, working on a current road verge restoration project. There will be placement opportunities with Costain, focused on environmental management or sustainability in infrastructure engineering.

Who are we looking for?
You will have a first degree in biology, ecology, environmental sciences or related subject, and a strong interest in wildlife conservation.

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with over twenty other research partners. Undertaking a PhD with the EnvEast DTP will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed by EnvEast on 12/13 February 2018.

Selected candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - in 2017/18, the stipend is £14,553. Ordinarily, EnvEast studentships are for 3.5 years, although longer awards may be made to applicants from quantitative disciplines who have limited experience in the environmental sciences, to allow them to take appropriate advanced-level courses in the subject area.

In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a stipend. For non-UK EU-resident applicants NERC funding can be used to cover tuition fees, RTSG and training costs, but not any part of the stipend. Individual institutes may, however, elect to provide a stipend from their own resources.

This PhD studentship is expected to begin in September/October 2018. Both full-time and part-time study are possible (those planning to study part-time may wish to discuss this with the supervisor before applying).


  1. Cole, L. J., S. Brocklehurst, D. Robertson, W. Harrison, and D. I. McCracken. 2017. Exploring the interactions between resource availability and the utilisation of semi-natural habitats by insect pollinators in an intensive agricultural landscape. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 246: 157-167.
  2. Dicks, L. V. et al. 2016. Ten policies for pollinators. Science 354: 975-976.
  3. Potts, S. G. et al. 2016. Safeguarding pollinators and their values to human well-being. Nature 540: 220-229.
  4. Dicks, L. V. et al. 2015. How much flower-rich habitat is enough for wild pollinators? Answering a key policy question with incomplete knowledge. Ecological Entomology 40 (S1): 22-35.
  5. Meindl, G. A., and T.-L. Ashman. 2013. The effects of aluminum and nickel in nectar on the foraging behavior of bumblebees. Environmental Pollution 177: 78-81.