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Herbivore-Plant-Soil microbe interactions: who is helping whom

Globally, 20-40% of crops are lost to insects, pathogens and weeds. Novel solutions to combat these biotic threats and protect crop health are urgently required, but they need to be intertwined with soil health and agroecosystem health. This PhD project will address the need to understand the relationship between crops, soil and agroecosystems by exploring the chemical ecology of interactions between aboveground insect pests and rhizosphere microbial communities. The knowledge generated will be used to underpin the design of future agricultural systems that are sufficiently robust to protect crops from pests and promote plant growth, can maintain healthy soil and provide balanced agroecosystems, and can look beyond the ‘treatment only’ current regimes for management of pests.

The project aims to address the following questions:

  1. How do different modes of aboveground insect pest damage (sucking, chewing) impact upon the rhizosphere microbiome?
  2. How do microbial communities interact with plant root exudates containing small lipophilic molecule chemical signals?
  3. Do root exudates lead to long-lasting changes in the rhizosphere microbiome?

The project will adopt a multi-disciplinary approach using methods and techniques that are used routinely in chemical ecology research i.e. analytical chemistry and molecular biology. The student will receive in-house training in these lab-based skills from the supervisors, as well as generic skills training (e.g. project management, presentation skills) from the institutes involved, and will be expected to spend significant amounts of time at both University of Nottingham and Rothamsted Research.


Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in Chemistry, Biology or related subject.


Enquiries should be directed by email to Dr John Caulfield ( or Dr Amanda Rasmussen (