Alien invasion - interactions between invading and native insect species

The project will study how an insect species first seen in the UK only five years ago is spreading and competing with resident insects that also feed on oak trees

Department: Environmental Biology, Biological Sciences

Supervised by: Prof. James Cook

The Placement Project

Introduced species pose increasing threats to native ecosystems, but biologists do not understand why some become invasive while others fail to spread. In collaboration with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH, Wallingford) we have started the “Acornwatch” project on the ecology of invading insects (gallwasps) that form galls on acorns. One well-established species produces familiar “knopper” galls, while a new invader produces “hedehog” galls on the same acorns. Their niches overlap and they compete directly for acorns and also indirectly via shared parasites. This system is well-defined and amenable to study on campus, where we monitor tree infestation levels and collect galls to assess parasitism. To understand the ecology, we must conduct studies throughout the annual life cycle. As part of the wider project, the student will join the summer fieldwork, and be involved in a range of activities, involving both field and lab work: 1.Surveying, and collecting galls from study trees on campus. 2.Identifying insects emerging from galls 3.Dissecting galls to assess parasitism and wasps to assess fecundity. 4.Monitoring reared galls and recording population data 5.Preliminary exploration of data from the above studies 6.Liasing with external scientists and discussing results during team visits to CEH Wallingford The student’s participation in the wider project will also give opportunities to meet a number of academic staff and other researchers working in ecology and entomology.


1.Field work on University of Reading campus (30%) 2.Lab-based light microscopy, gall rearings and insect identification (50%) 3.Computer based data entry and data analysis (15%). 4.Research team meetings at UOR / CEH (5%)

Skills, knowledge and experience required

1.A keen interest in Ecology and Entomology (essential). 2.Ability to conduct field work on the UOR campus (essential) 3.Ability to undertake simple microscopy (after instruction) using a light microscope (desirable) 4.Some previous experience of fieldwork (desirable, not essential)

Skills which will be developed during the placement

1.Experience and training in field work 2.Sampling techniques and experimental design. 3.Insect identification. 4.Light microscopy. 5.Data management 6.Simple statistical analysis of ecological data (using the statistical package R). 7. Working in a research team with UOR and external researchers A range of Zoology and Ecology final year projects are offered through the UOR (including projects looking at gallwasps) and this project will provide a range of valuable skills useful to the student in their continuing studies and more widely.

Place of Work

SBS Ecology Lab (Harborne Building room 128) with 5 other members of Prof. Cook’s group

Hours of Work


Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Unknown - Tuesday 08 June 2010

How to Apply

Students should provide a CV and a covering letter. The letter should be no longer than one side of A4 and should explain briefly : 1) why the student is attracted by this particular project; 2) what they hope to gain from doing the project; 3) what skills or experience they have that are relevant to the project.Short-listed candidates will then be interviewed by Prof. James Cook and PhD student Ian Townsend.

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