4-year PhD project in the SWBio doctoral training program

Project title: Drifting behaviour and colony health in social bees

Supervisors: Dr. Christoph Grüter and Dr. Emily Bell, School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol

Collaborators: Ana Rosa de Lima, Meli Bees Network gUG

Application deadline: 5 December 2022

Start date: September 2023

To apply and for further details about the program, see here 

Informal Enquiries: c.grueter@bristol.ac.uk

Project Description 

Bees are important pollinators of wild and agricultural plants. Among the most important pollinators in temperate regions are honeybees (Apis mellifera) and, in the tropics, the stingless bees or Meliponini. People keep bees in apiaries to facilitate beekeeping and pollination. For traditional communities in the Amazon, beekeeping of native Brazilian stingless bees is of both economic and cultural importance as bees provide food, income and medicinal products.

Bees face a cocktail of anthropogenic stressors, including pesticides, climate change, emerging pathogens and habitat destruction. In the long term, the interactions among these stressors can lead to high annual mortality rates of bee colonies and, potentially, elevated risks to pollinator communities due to a spillover of diseases from infected hives to other hives and wild pollinators. One behaviour that is of particular interest for colony health and disease transmission is worker “drifting”, which means that bees enter the wrong hive, either by accident or to steal food sources. The interactions between drifting and anthropogenic stressors and diseases are still poorly understood.

The aim of this PhD studentship is to study the links between drifting behaviour, the nutritional state of colonies, pesticide exposure and pathogen infection. It will do so by studying honeybees in the UK and stingless bees in Brazil. Four specific aims are addressed: 1) Understand the links between drifting behaviour and diseases, 2) understand the links between drifting behaviour and pesticides, 3) understand the links between drifting behaviour and the nutritional and foraging condition of colonies and, 4) understand the links between the spatial arrangement of apiaries and drifting behaviour. The latter will be combined with agent-based simulation modelling to assess how the spatial arrangement of colonies can reduce drifting and disease spread.

This project will allow the candidate to learn an exciting mix of methodological approaches and work in the UK and in Brazil, in collaboration with the not-for-profit organisation Meli (www.meli-bees.com) .

Candidate requirements 

We seek a motivated, dedicated, and collaborative student with an interest in behaviour, ecology, and entomology. You should be eager to learn about the management and natural history of bees, and the molecular tools to study them. We value a diverse research environment and encourage student applications from under-represented groups. 


Background reading and references 

  • Geffre, A.C., et al. 2020. Honey bee virus causes context-dependent changes in host social behavior. PNAS 107: 10406-10413.
  • Grüter, C. 2020. Stingless Bees: Their Behaviour, Ecology and Evolution. Springer, Switzerland. 
  • Oliveira, R.C., et al. 2021. Foraging and drifting patterns of the highly eusocial Neotropical stingless bee Melipona fasciculata assessed by radio-frequency identification tags. Front. Ecol. Evol. 9: 708178