PhD candidate: Bumblebees in the spotlight

Published on
September 12, 2017
Location Wageningen
Scientific field Natural Sciences
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We are looking for

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.

We ask

For this interdisciplinary project, we are looking for a highly motivated and skilled PhD candidate with a recent university MSc degree (or equivalent) in biology, engineering or (bio)physics. Specific requirements are:

  • Strong analytical/modelling skills and innovative attitude
  • A clear affinity with the field of (bio)physics, (bio)mechanics, mathematics and/or animal behaviour/ecology.
  • Very good programming skills (e.g. Matlab, R or Python)
  • The candidate should be a team player with excellent communication skills
  • Proficient in English (both oral and written)

We offer

We offer a full-time appointment (1.0 fte, 38 hours/week) for 4 years (18+30 months). Salary ranges from € 2222,- (gross) in the first year to € 2840,- (gross) in the fourth year based on full-time employment.

More information

For more information, please contact:
Dr ir Florian T Muijres           ( | +31 317 486 977)
Dr ir Frank van Langevelde   ( | +31 317 484 750)
Prof dr Marc Naguib              ( | +31 317 483 860)
How to applyApplications have to be submitted via the Wageningen UR online application system. Candidates are requested to upload the following information to the website:

  • Letter of motivation
  • CV, including GPA (Grade Point Average) or equivalent in your Bachelor and Master education
  • Names and contact information for two references
You can apply until October 16th, 2017.
Job interviews will be held in November 2017.

We are

Wageningen University & Research
Wageningen UR has as mission 'To explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life', and it is worldwide renowned for its research and education in the field of life sciences. Through these activities it aims to make essential contributions to the quality of life. This approach has led to Wageningen University being ranked as the best agricultural university in the world according to the National Taiwan University Ranking 2016.
You will participate in a multidisciplinary international consortium that aims at studying the visual- flight motor control system of bumblebees. The consortium consists of the Experimental Zoology Group, Resource Ecology Group, Behavioural Ecology Group and Bio-interactions & Plant Health at Wageningen UR, and the international partners Dickinson Lab at the California Institute of Technology (USA) and Sponberg Lab at Georgia Tech (USA).
The Experimental Zoology Group
The mission of the Experimental Zoology Group is to unravel the relationships between form and function in zoological systems in a developmental and evolutionary context. The group is world leading in studying the biomechanics and (bio)fluid dynamics of both fish swimming and animal flight. The project PI and direct supervisor dr ir Florian Muijres is an aerospace engineer with a PhD in biology and an expert on the manoeuvre dynamics in flying animals.
The Resource Ecology Group
The Resource Ecology Group focuses on understanding the ecology of animals in their natural environment. The outcomes of this research are used for nature conservation and, increasingly, for understanding how diseases and their vectors spread through the landscape. This will enable the planning of interventions. While the research culture of our group is clearly driven by an (evolutionary) ecology perspective, interdisciplinary work is important too. The direct supervisor dr ir Frank van Langevelde is an ecologist and an expert on animal movement and population biology.
The Behavioural Ecology Group
The Behavioural Ecology Group determines behavioural interactions between individuals within populations and communities to obtain insights into how social communities function and how individuals affect each other with respect to their behaviour, fitness, and wellbeing. The research addresses the underlying mechanisms and functions of behavioural decisions in a wide range of contexts. The project PI prof. Marc Naguib is specialized in early environmental effects on behaviour, animal communication, and spatial behaviour.
Bio-interactions & Plant Health
The mission of Bio-interactions & Plant Health is to increase global food security by ensuring plant health. The group studies beneficial and pest insects, bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and analyses their effect on plants, positive (pollination, biological control) as well as negative (crop damage). The direct supervisor dr ir Coby van Dooremalen is an eco-physiologist and an expert on bee health and bee performance under stress.