Evidence and impact of parasite spillover across pollinator communities

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Life Sciences


Globally, many pollinator species have suffered range reductions, declining populations, and in some cases extinction - all driven by stressors such as parasites. The resulting decline in pollination service poses a significant threat to ecosystem stability and global food security however the identity of many of the harmful parasites remain unknown, and their transmission and potential reservours remain a mystery. Understanding the dynamics of parasite spread
and the severity of disease across pollinator communities is a challenge of global importance with a clear potential to have significant benefit to ecosystems and food security.
The spread of parasites can be intensified by human practices and farming; In the UK over 50,000 managed bumblebee colonies are imported every year for agriculture in addition to ~250,000 managed honey bee hives recorded to also be here. Previous work by the group has shown that these practices influence the spillover/spillback dynamics of atleast 5 known honey bee and bumblebee parasites, prompting changes to EU and UK regulations. However
these data are limited to less than 1% of all pollinator species and do not account for the many parasites that are as-yet unknown to science due to this research bias on a small fraction of pollinator species and their parasites. This ambitious PhD will involve fieldwork to explore parasite spillover within and between the vast diversity of wild and managed pollinator communities, before utilising a suite of cutting edge molecular and bioinformatic techniques to
discover parasites (both known and unknown to science), track disease dynamics, and determine disease severity across diverse groups of pollinators.
Uniquely, this project also offers the student opportunity to work closely with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT), taking part in organised BeeWalks and helping promote bees, research, and the BBCT at outreach events. The BBCT will help promote the studentship findings both to their members, regulatory bodies and government. Based at the Silwood Park campus of Imperial College London there is a strong community of evolutionary and molecular ecologists. You will benefit from colleagues working on a range synergistic topics including host-parasite interactions of honeybees, pollinator ecology, and functional microbiology. We have a research apiary, newly fitted insect rooms, state of the art genomics and microbiology suites, and all situated on 100ha of natural parkland. Training will be provided on pollinator field work, bee husbandry, microbiology, molecular sequencing, and bioinformatics. The project will deliver unprecedented insight to our understanding of disease spread across pollinator communities, providing the valuble evidence needed to develop appropriate management strategies.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/S007415/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2027
2892580 Studentship NE/S007415/1 01/10/2023 31/03/2027 Miles Nesbit