About the Project: Applications are invited for a fully-funded three year PhD to commence in October 2023.  The PhD will be based in the Faculty of Science and Health, and will be supervised by Dr Lena Grinsted, Professor Matt Guille and Dr Bilde.

Candidates applying for this project may be eligible to compete for one of a small number of bursaries available. Successful applicants will receive a bursary to cover tuition fees for three years and a stipend in line with the UKRI rate (£17,668 for 2022/23). Bursary recipients will also receive an annual contribution of £1,500 per year towards consumables, conference, project or training costs.

The work on this project could involve:

  • Designing behavioural assays to disentangle interactions among group-living spiders and their parasites, predators, competitors and prey in both lab and field settings 
  • Meta-barcoding of spider guts to understand trophic interactions among spiders and agricultural pests and pollinators
  • Use of automated behavioural tracking equipment
  • Field work in southern Spain (essential) and Indonesia (optional)
  • Research visits to collaborator labs in Denmark and/or France

Project description

Biological pest control by natural predators, such as spiders, is a key part of finding sustainable solutions for intensive agriculture. Group living spiders may be uniquely suited to provide this ecosystem service as they are extraordinarily tolerant of conspecifics and therefore occur at high densities without cannibalism. However, predators, parasites and competitors can reduce communal spiders’ pest control abilities by altering the cost-benefit function of group living.

This project will investigate the trophic interactions within spider and insect communities to understand how community structure affects selection for group living, and to assess communal spiders’ pest control potential.

Cyrtophora citricola spiders build large silk colonies in Southern Europe, and in tropical and subtropical areas around the globe where climate change strongly affects agricultural systems and new biocontrol methods are needed. Promising new lab studies suggest spider colonies could be effective at controlling the devastating global tomato pest Tuta absoluta. However, the webs of spider groups function as a substrate for other spiders and insects that parasitise, predate or compete with C. citricola.

The complex interactions amongst the host spiders’ adversaries and their effects on spiders’ group living tendencies and ability to control pests are unknown. This project will investigate whether high parasite loads causes spiders to disperse, reducing predator densities and pest control abilities, and whether competing spiders may help to control parasites by preying on them.

This project offers a high degree of flexibility, depending on the interests of the successful candidate, with regards to the relative components of field versus lab work, behavioural tracking versus eDNA metabarcoding, and evolutionary/ecological theory versus a more applied biological pest control direction.

The Grinsted Spider Lab values diversity among team members and encourages applicants from all cultural backgrounds and ethnicities, from all ages and physical abilities, and from across the LGBTQ+ spectrum.

General admissions criteria

You’ll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum upper second class or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

Specific candidate requirements:

A background in ecology, zoology, ethology or evolutionary biology; A keen interest in animal behaviour; Ability to work independently and as a part of a research team; Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal; Preferably experience conducting field work; Preferably experience using the statistical software R, and a good understanding of experimental design

How to Apply

We’d encourage you to contact Dr Grinsted (lena.grinsted@port.ac.uk)  to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV.  Our ‘How to Apply page offers further guidance on the PhD application process. If you want to be considered for this funded PhD opportunity you must quote project code BIOL7940423 when applying.

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