PhD studentship in visual ecology of herbivorous pest insects

Nezara viridula eye
Application Date (COB): 
Friday, 14 April 2017 - 5:00pm

The Bio-Protection Research Centre, Lincoln University, New Zealand is inviting applications for a PhD studentship to examine fundamental aspects of insect vision in order to develop visually more attractive trapping systems for pest insects.

This is an exciting opportunity for a student to contribute to the understanding of insect vision, and to improve monitoring and control of several important phytophagous pest insects, including Western flower thrips (Frankliniella occidentalis), Onion thrips (Thrips tabaci) and bugs in the Miridae and Pentatomidae family. The work is of national and international significance for agricultural production of pesticide-free food.

The research project is a collaboration between New Zealand, the Netherlands and Sweden and the successful candidate should be willing to work for substantial time in both Europe and New Zealand.

The successful candidate will investigate the anatomical composition of the insects’ eyes and collect information on colour sensitivity of the different ommatidia to model the potential vision of the insect. This information will be used to develop and test visually attractive objects with target insects in the laboratory and field. The most visually attractive objects will be integrated with olfactory stimuli and optimised further. This may lead to new designs of trapping systems for better monitoring and new control options such as mass-trapping, and lure and kill.


Although visual ecology of insects has been studied since the early 1950s, information on the visual decision-making processes in phytophagous insects is limited. Phytophagous insects respond positively to colour patterns related to plants and plant parts (e.g. flowers and fruit) with the goal of identifying suitable food plants and/or places for mating and reproduction. Odours may be perceived by the insect from a distance and used as a guide to where visual information becomes available. From this point on, however, it often remains unclear if and how chemical and visual stimuli interact in leading the insect to the target source. Aspects such as flight, target approach, landing and searching on the target plant, are different processes in decision making that may be influenced by different stimuli. This project will study agriculturally important pests such as thrips, the European tarnished plant bug and the brown marmorated stink bug by integrating established knowledge on their behaviour towards olfactory stimuli with newly generated knowledge on visual orientation. Ultimately, the aim is to increase our fundamental knowledge of how phytophagous insects respond to plant stimuli to improve the efficiency of traps, which may lead to new options for sustainable pest management and border biosecurity.

The research will be undertaken jointly with the Bio-Protection Research Centre and Plant & Food Research in New Zealand, and Wageningen University and Research (WUR) in the Netherlands, who have extensive experience in plant-insect interactions (chemical ecology and biocontrol), and researchers at Lund University, Sweden, who are investigating fundamental aspects of vision in animals and insects.

We offer

The three-year scholarship provides a stipend of NZ$28,000 a year tax-free, and also covers university fees. The successful candidate will be based at Lincoln University, Canterbury, New Zealand. Besides their own research, they will attend courses and workshops in relevant transferable skills like scientific writing and project management as well as participate in our biennial Bio-Protection Research Centre symposium, weekly seminar series and group meetings. Each PhD student receives individual supervision and mentoring and is guided in her/his research work by a PhD advisory committee.


Applicants for this project should hold a first class or high 2A honours degree, or equivalent, in a relevant area, preferably with interest in visual and chemical ecology. Applicants should also hold a full driver’s licence. The position is open to applicants of any nationality, provided they fulfil Lincoln University’s English language requirements, can obtain a student visa, and are eligible for admission to the PhD programme.

To apply

Applications should include:

  • evidence of qualifications and research experience
  • a curriculum vitae and contact details of two academic referees
  • a cover letter that states why the candidate is interested in the position and how their qualifications would map onto the proposed research.

Please email applications to Dr Michael Rostás