PhD candidate: Bumblebees in the spotlight

Wageningen University & Research
September 13 2017
Position Type
Full Time
Organization Type

We are looking for a highly motivated and skilled PhD candidate to study the visual-flight motor system of bumblebees, and its dependency on light conditions.

Bumblebees are the most widely used pollinators in horticulture, and therefore they have become a model-species for studying insect flight and vision. To successfully forage, bumblebees need to detect, approach, and land on flowers. All these steps are primarily controlled by sophisticated interactions between vision and flight motor control (Figure 1). Because the performance of the visual system deteriorates with a reduction in light intensity, flight control is also negatively affected in dim light conditions. This might be an important factor for explaining the reduced pollination rates of bumblebees in relatively dimly-lit greenhouses.

The PhD candidate will study how the visual-flight motor system of bumblebees is affected by light conditions. For this, the PhD candidate will perform a set of experiments on bumblebees landing on artificial flowers, in various light conditions. Based on these experiments, the candidate will derive the functional dynamics of the visual-flight motor system of bumblebees, and determine how low light conditions affect landing performance, and consequently pollination rates. The results will contribute to the fundamental understanding of the co-evolution of flowers and insects, as well as the co-evolution of the visual system and flight control in the most widely-used pollinator in horticulture.

For this project, a range of experimental and modelling tools are available at Wageningen University, including a dedicated insect flight arena with a high-speed camera system for tracking flying insects. Using this system, the PhD candidate can, for example, perform closed-loop experiments on bumblebees landing on artificial robotic flowers, whereby robotic flower movements are controlled based on the position of the bumblebee. The candidate is expected to perform part of the research abroad in collaboration with our international partners.

This job comes from a partnership with Science Magazine and Euraxess