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PhD project: Using landscape genomics to improve management of insect pest species

PhD title: Using landscape genomics to improve management of insect pest species

PhD Start date: 2 October 2017

Application Deadline: 10 July 2017

PhD Supervisor(s): Dr James Bell (Rothamsted Research), Dr Ramiro Morales-Hojas (Rothamsted Research), Dr Rosemary Collier (Warwick Crop Centre), Dr Graham Teakle (Warwick Crop Centre)

Location: Student would be based at Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, AL5 2JQ

Funding: Tuition fees in full at the Home/EU rate. An annual stipend of at least £14,553 for 4 years

Project Description:

Insect pests have a widespread negative impact in agriculture, resulting in very large economic loses. Monitoring and surveillance of pest species is fundamental to control their populations and reduce the damage they inflict on crops. This is because an early detection improves the chances of controlling them before they spread out and increase their population size. However, studying the migration of small insects can be problematic due to the difficulty of tracking individuals. In addition, resistance to pest control methods, whether to insecticide or to host-plant resistant cultivars, is becoming an increasingly important issue. Inferring the population structure of pest species and the connectivity across populations and landscapes is key to understand migration patterns, which can be used to inform pest surveillance and control schemes. This fully-funded project provides an exciting opportunity to apply population genomics and evolutionary concepts to improve insect pest management and understand the evolution of resistance.

The project will use Nasonovia ribisnigri, the currant-lettuce aphid, as a model system to evaluate how landscape genomics can be used to improve aphid surveillance and control the spread of resistance alleles. The currant-lettuce aphid, Nasonovia ribisnigri, is a major pest of lettuce crops responsible for large economic losses. One of the most efficient way to reduce aphid infestations and damage is growing host-resistant lettuce cultivars that stop aphids from colonising the plant. However, the capacity of breaking the host-plant resistance mechanism (Rb) has recently evolved in some biotypes. In these circumstances, surveillance and monitoring of crops becomes of great importance to produce early warning information that would improve targeted control of N. ribisnigri before aphids enter the lettuce head. However, the paradox is that whilst winged aphids are quick to colonise the lettuce crop in spring they are unusually scarce in both water traps and suction traps. Understanding the migration patterns of the species is, therefore, fundamental to design efficient methods of capture and control. For this, the project will use genomics to infer the population structure and the levels of gene flow between populations of N. ribisnigri at different geographic scales and different landscapes. This knowledge will be used to develop surveillance methods that maximise the observation of individuals of the species at the early stages of their migration into the crops. Furthermore, these results combined with the development of genome-wide markers for the Rb phenotype will provide fundamental information about the evolution and spread of resistance across the UK.

You will be based at Rothamsted Research working within the Insect Survey group, a national capability dedicated to the monitoring of aphid and moth populations in the UK. You will be registered at the University of Warwick and field work will be carried out closely with the UK’s leading lettuce producer G’s. Thus, the studentship offers extensive opportunities to engage with one of Europe’s leading family-owned fresh produce companies, growing and supplying a vast array of fresh, high quality crops to all the major UK retailer and many European retailers.

This project is part of a BBSRC-funded Collaborative Training Partnership (CTP) between the Waitrose Partnership, their international food production and supply companies, Lancaster University, the University of Reading, the University of Warwick and Rothamsted Research. Between 2017 and 2023, the CTP will deliver 20 four-year studentships on the themes of sustainable crop production, sustainable soil and water and biodiversity and ecosystem services in agriculture.

Key experimental skills involved:

We are looking for a highly motivated student interested in working in a multidisciplinary project that will involve molecular biology techniques, bioinformatics, taxonomic identification of aphid species, field ecological work, and integrated pest management methods. The ability and willingness to drive to field sites frequently is essential. Some experience of land-based industry is also desirable.


Applications are encouraged from UK and EU students.

To be eligible for a full funding award (Tuition fees and Stipend) a student must have:

  • Settled status in the UK, meaning they have no restrictions on how long then can stay and
  • Been 'ordinarily resident' in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the studentship. This means they must have been normally residing in the UK (apart from temporary or occasional absences) and
  • Not been residing in the UK wholly or mainly for th epurpose of full-time education. (This does not apply to UK or EU nationals).

To be eligible for a tuition fees only award:

Students from EU countries other than the UK are generally eligible for a fees-only award.

  • a student must be ordinarily resident in a member state of the EU, in the same way as UK students must be ordinarily resident in the UK.
  • You can make an initial project enquiry by contacting any of the following:
    Dr. Ramiro Morales-Hojas –
    Dr. James Bell –
    Dr. Rosemary Collier –
  • Complete the online application form - choose PhD in Biological Sciences (C1P0) and enter Waitrose/Bell in the Finance section.
  • Upload a transcript from your current or previous study, a CV and any other documents that you feel would support your application (within 24 hours of submitting your online applicaion you will receive a link allowing you to upload additional supporting documents).
  • Ask your referees to submit a reference for you. Note: when you submit your application, an email will automatically be sent to your referees requesting a reference for you. This email will contain a secure link for your referee to upload a reference for you.

Exact date to be confirmed.