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Monitoring and discriminating honeybee colonies exhibiting “resilience”

  • School: School of Science and Technology
  • Starting: 2023
  • Funding: UK student / Fully-funded


In this work, you will contribute to the EU-funded scientific project ‘BETTER-B’, a four-year long vision to improve the resilience of beekeeping to abiotic stressors such as climate change, habitat loss and hazardous chemicals.

Honey bee colonies are often poorly adapted to cope with these stresses, in no small part due to modern beekeeping practices. The key to resilient beekeeping is to harness the power of nature to restore harmony and balance inside the honeybee colony and between the colony and the environment, both of which have been disturbed by human activities. We believe that the path to harmony and balance is provided by Darwinian colonies: abandoned colonies and feral colonies that have survived in the wild. However, such colonies usually lack many favourable characteristics that are important in modern beekeeping. The solution we propose is to understand the processes and mechanisms that apply in nature and to adapt modern beekeeping practices and decision making accordingly, and when appropriate, using the benefits of advanced technologies. The implementation of this new approach in apicultural management will be undertaken in close collaboration with all relevant actors. The restoration of harmony and balance must take place on three levels: the environment, the honey bee and beekeeping practices.

To reach its overall aim, BETTER-B will address a large collection of specific objectives, and you will contribute to the characterisation of established Darwinian honey bee populations and those that are in-the-making through the process of Darwinian selection, with special emphasis on remote sensing.

In each participating apiary, a randomised selection of eight colonies (constituting a so-called ‘mini-apiary’) belonging to the local collection of bees contributing to the study will be carefully monitored, automatically, non-invasively, with the BEEP system (providing hive mass, internal/external temperature and local weather every 15 mins) and with accelerometers and electromagnetic shakers (TNTU) providing randomised vibrational stimuli and a colony's vibrational signature, in a passive way and also in response to the hourly artificial stimuli.

As the work progresses, it will be possible to identify, in each mini-apiary, retrospectively, non-invasively, colonies that are remaining in, or leaving the Darwinian selection. We will therefore be able to analyse the automatically collected data as well as the genomic and phenotypic data (colony size, honey yield and parasite levels and associated phenotypic data), seeking for colony signatures indicating its ability to survive. As all colonies in a given mini-apiary will be subjected to the same environment, floral resources, weather and external challenges, differences found in the automatic data will only originate from the colonies themselves.

Identifying early and locally relevant signatures indicating a resilient colony will help beekeepers invest their efforts more efficiently, and will provide new exciting data to understand better the biology of honey bee colonies and the genetic solutions they evolve to cope with environmental challenges. The analysis of data from remote sensors will include the identification of patterns found (i) in daily mass changes, (ii) in the daily statistics of meaningful and physiological pulsed vibrational signals emitted in the colony, (ii) in the colony’s ‘restfulness’ revealed by the magnitude of their reaction to a randomized stimulus, (iii) in the colony’s mobility revealed by the magnitude of the loss of vibrational buzzing detected immediately after the stimulus.

We will be able to investigate the variations, and the constant features, of locally relevant signature-of-resilience by repeating the analysis in mini-apiaries in different locations in Europe. We will thus provide an enhanced understanding of the locally adapted resilient honey bee colonies and the extent of their variations.

Entry qualifications

Entrants must hold a first or upper second-class honours degree of a UK university or an equivalent qualification, or a lower second-class honours degree with a master’s degree at Merit level from a UK university or an equivalent qualification.

How to apply

Please visit our how to apply page for a step-by-step guide and make an application.

Application deadline: Tuesday 4 July 2023.

Fees and funding

This Ph.D. is funded by UKRI in order to allow us to contribute to this large scale EU funded project.

Guidance and support

Find out about guidance and support for PhD students.

Still need help?

Dr Martin Bencsik
+44 (0)115 8488057