The QMEE CDT Project proposal database

Welcome to the QMEE CDT Project proposal database. This is a live list of projects proposals put forward by PIs across the CDT partner institutions

PIs/Supervisors will continue to add projects to this list over the next few months, so do keep checking back! You can search the projects using the box below: simply enter some text and press Search to do a text search across all the database fields. If you want to search more finely, the search tool also allows you to search on particular details of the project descriptions: you will see these finer search options appear if you click on the search box.

Click on the view button next to a project to get the full proposal description. If you want to download project details, either for all projects, or for a subset you have searched for, then click on the 'Download details' button.

How do droughts impact the fitness and behaviour of solitary bees?
Interactions between plants and the insects that pollinate them are dynamic and influenced by the weather. High temperatures can damage pollen in flowers and increase a plant’s reliance on cross pollination by bees, while droughts may limit the amount of nectar in flowers and force bees to visit more flowers to harvest the same amount of energy. These climate factors may impact the reproductive success of plants and bees, change bee behaviour, and increase vulnerability of these species to other stressors. Climate change is expected to bring greater extremes in the weather, potentially making life more difficult for both plants and their insect pollinators. While colonial nesting bees, such as honeybees and bumblebees have some form of food reserves within their nest that can help them to compensate for shortfalls in floral resources, this is not the case for solitary bees. There are around 200 solitary bee species in the UK, these bees typically nest individually, or in aggregations of single-female nests, and they are key pollinators of some crops (e.g. apples) and plants in natural ecosystems. A drought-induced reduction in floral resources could be highly detrimental for a solitary bee’s reproductive success, which is likely linked directly to her ability to collect food. Solitary bees have been shown to re-absorb developing egg cells during times of low food availability. But there is little understanding of how such stressors impact solitary bee populations. Mathematical models can help us to understand the effects of different stressors on populations. Modelling approaches exist for colonial nesting bee species (e.g. BEEHAVE; Becher et al.), and these models have been used successfully to model the impact of pesticides and habitat loss on honeybee colony health. Model development for solitary bees is currently lagging behind. In the proposed project, the student will develop a model showing how droughting affects the energy budgets of a common solitary bee, Osmia bicornis. Bees collect energy and other resources by flying between individual flowers and harvesting their resources. Flight draws on bee energy reserves, but these are replenished by feeding. The energy budget can be modelled in a straightforward way following established principles of behavioural and physiological ecology (e.g. Sibly et al. 2013 doi:10.1111/2041-210x.12002). The model will give an understanding of how droughting, which affects the energy available in flowers, impacts the foraging behaviour, the energy budget, and ultimately the fitness of the bees. The student will collect their own experimental data to parameterise and validate the model. They will assess how drought changes the quality and quantity of pollen and nectar in flowers. In a second phase of experiments, the student will use experimental arenas (e.g. in glasshouses or polytunnels) to monitor how pollinator foraging behaviour and reproductive rate are influenced by drought. Reproductive success will be assessed through measurements such as the number and viability of egg cells produced, and with direct measures of bee body fat. Foraging behaviour will be monitored by observations of floral visitation. The project will provide a novel insight into the impacts of drought on solitary bee behaviour and fitness, and the mathematical model will have many important onward applications in pollinator conservation.
Jacob Bishop
Richard Sibly
Development of mathematical theory, Computing, Quantitative data analysis, Ecological observations / data collection
Richard Sibly
Quantifying the components of the energy budget using real data, use of data for model construction and validation, expertise in GLMs and LMMs, development of Agent Based Models (ABMs) of bee foraging in relation to plant distribution and weather, and evaluation of ABMs using Approximate Bayesian Computation.
There is currently no functioning agent based model for solitary bees. Mathematical models have been developed for bumblebee and honeybee species, but these are colonial species with very different characteristics to solitary bees.
The project will address problems in foraging theory and energy budgeting using agent based modelling to investigate the population consequences of stressors that impact individuals. The investigated stressors affect plants as well as bees so we will also look at the effects of the stressors on plant pollinator interactions and plant mating systems.
Risk assessment of solitary bee population viability under drought conditions. A functioning solitary bee model will enable further development and the modelling of impacts of pesticides and habitat losses on these species.
The model developed in this project should enable risk assessments for solitary bee populations under a range of future drought scenarios. This may be used to advise fruit crop growers about the costs/benefits of for example, supplementing their fields with managed pollinators, or the use of irrigation in non-crop foraging areas.
This project brings together quantitative expertise in agent based modelling (Sibly) with empirical expertise in plant-pollinator interactions (Bishop). By combining our experimental and quantitative approaches we have developed a research project that addresses a key gap in current understanding of solitary bee behavioural ecology and their responses to drought.
Climate and climate change, Behavioural ecology, Environmental physiology
The project offers training in controlled environment experimentation, entomology, statistical, mathematical and analytical skills, and programming skills in open-source languages including R, and NetLogo for Individual-Based Modelling. Approximate Bayesian Computation will be used to evaluate the IBM.
University of Reading, School of Biological Sciences and School of Agriculture, Policy and Development
2017-10-02 10:57:18