Social organisation of the Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum (BOURKE_UBIO16EE) Social organisation of the Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum (BOURKE_UBIO16EE)

Primary Supervisor: Prof Andrew Bourke (

Project Description

Scientific background:

Bumblebees represent essential pollinators of crops and wildflowers, yet many species are declining and the reasons for their decline are not fully understood.  In this context, the Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) represents a particularly illuminating case because, having arrived in southern England as a natural colonist from continental Europe in 2001, it has since spread extremely rapidly to become one of the commonest bumblebee species in England and Wales.  Although research is elucidating some of the underlying ecological factors, very little is known about whether the social organisation of B. hypnorum has contributed to its startling ecological success.

Bombus species vary widely in the duration and dynamics of their annual colony cycle and in the within-colony behaviour of workers, some of which can become selfish, reproductive workers (laying unfertilised male-yielding eggs). Additionally, B. hypnorum is unusual in that, because queens can mate with several males, between-worker relatedness within colonies is reduced. According to inclusive fitness (kin selection) theory, this facilitates the evolution of worker 'policing' (suppression) of workers' reproduction because it increases workers' relative relatedness to queen-produced males.  Previous tests of this influential idea within species have been inconclusive. The overall goal of this PhD project is therefore to investigate the social organisation of B. hypnorum both to advance our understanding of its ecological success and to test fundamental ideas in social evolution.

Methodology and training:

The student will use colony censuses, behavioural observations and microsatellite genotyping to determine the colony growth schedule, colony cycle, policing behaviour and levels of worker male-production in B. hypnorum. The student will join a large, active research group in which several related projects are being conducted.  He/she will receive training in ecology, behaviour, conservation, evolutionary biology, microsatellite genotyping and experimental design, and acquire transferable skills in data analysis, project management, knowledge transfer and oral and written communication.  He/she will be encouraged to develop and test their original ideas, both within the project and via establishing synergies with related projects inside and outside the group.  This studentship would suit applicants with Bachelors or Masters degrees in Biology, Ecology, Genetics or Zoology.


i) Crowther LP, Hein P-L, Bourke AFG (2014) Habitat and forage associations of a naturally colonising insect pollinator, the Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorumPLoS One 9: e107568.

ii) Lopez-Vaamonde C, Koning JW, Brown RM, Jordan WC, Bourke AFG (2004) Social parasitism by male-producing reproductive workers in a eusocial insect. Nature 430: 557-560.

iii) Lopez-Vaamonde C, Raine NE, Koning JW, Brown RM, Pereboom JJM, Ings TC, Ramos-Rodriguez O, Jordan WC, Bourke AFG (2009) Lifetime reproductive success and longevity of queens in an annual social insect. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 22: 983-996.

iv) Zanette LRS, Miller SDL, Faria CMA, Almond EJ, Huggins TJ, Jordan WC, Bourke AFG (2012) Reproductive conflict in bumblebees and the evolution of worker policing. Evolution 66: 3765-3777.

Deadline: 23:59 on Wednesday 6 January 2016

Start date: October 2016
Programme: PhD
Mode of Study: Full Time
Entry Requirements: Acceptable First Degree: Biology, Ecology, Genetics, Zoology, or similar
Minimum Entry: Standard: 2:1

For further information and to apply, please visit our website: