Sensory ecology of vespine wasps: a technology-led solution to understanding the honeybees of the wasp world

Theme: Biodiversity, Ecology & Conservation

Primary Supervisor:

Seirian Sumner

Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

Seirian Sumner's Profile Picture

Secondary Supervisor:

Lars Chittka

School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, QMUL

Lars Chittka's Profile Picture

Project Description:

For millennia, humans have been amazed by the incredible societies of honeybees. Scientists have worked out how to decode the communication systems of bees, how individuals perceive in their environment, and the role of memory and information processing in regulating their daily activities. There’s no doubt, the social lives of honeybees are incredible.

There are other, equally awe-inspiring social insects, which live in societies just as impressively complex societies as honeybees, but that we have little idea of how they function, how they perceive and process information about the world or how they communicate amongst themselves. These are the yellowjacket wasps – Vespula spp – the bothersome insects that ruin your picnics at the end of summer. They are the honeybees of the wasp world – their societies are as large, complex, coordinated and cooperative as those of the honeybee. Despite this, we know very little about how wasp colonies function.

The student will conduct pioneering work into the sensory and communication systems of yellowjacket wasps. They will benefit from new tech-facilities and expertise at the People & Nature Lab in UCL East, where wasp nests can be rigged up to an array of automated monitoring equipment which will reveal a side to the wasps that has never been recorded before. You will be trained in handling the wasps safely, and develop skills in behavioural monitoring using a wide range of cutting-edge methods in ecology, to monitor sound, vibrations, movement and interactions within the colony, and analyses tools including machine learning and AI to interpret the data.

Policy Impact of Research:

Wasps provide key ecosystem services as regulators of insect populations, pollinators and seed disperses. We require a better understanding of their sensory ecology and behaviour in order to properly benefit from these services. The findings will reveal how wasps perceive, interact and use their environment; these are essential for understanding how to maintain healthy populations of these essential insects in the face of a rapidly changing landscape.

Stay informed

Click here to subscribe to our RSS newsletter by email.

Find Us

University College London is the administrative lead.

North-West Wing, UCL, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT

Follow us on Twitter