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Finding Volucella: the hunt for hoverflies that mimic bumblebees.

Lead supervisor: Dr Tom Reader (

Location: University of Nottingham (UoN)

Duration: Approximately 6 weeks (depending on age and experience)


Paid summer research placement opportunity

A funded opportunity is available for an undergraduate student in a biological or quantitative discipline (including mathematics, computing or physics) to form part of a pilot project at the University of Nottingham with Dr Tom Reader during summer 2021. Work will begin on roughly 28/06/21 and run for 6 weeks. The successful applicant will be supported by a student stipend of £1,456.32- £1,978.02 (depending on age) from the NERC Envision scheme. This paid research placement is an exciting opportunity to gain experience in evolutionary ecology and conversation biology, while developing your CV.

The project aims to understand the distribution of Volucella bombylans, a large hoverfly which is a Batesian mimic of bumblebees. Batesian mimics are harmless prey species which gain protection from predation by resembling defended or noxious “model” species. V. bombylans is a particularly remarkable mimic because it is polymorphic: different individuals resemble different species of bumblebee. We are ultimately interested in finding the genes which determine how individuals vary in their appearance, such that some individuals look like red-tailed bumblebees, whilst others look like buff- or white-tailed bumblebees. To do this, we need to find good field sites at which we can collect specimens. Studying the distribution of this species will also help us understand its habitat preferences and conservation status.

The student taking this placement will conduct field work and distribution modelling to achieve the following specific objectives:

  1. Identify field sites at which bombylans is present in central and northern England. The student will identify possible field sites based on existing data and maps, and visit them with suitable entomological equipment (insect net, sampling tubes) for sampling. Specimens collected in the field will be returned to Nottingham, and frozen at -80°C for later genetic analysis (not part of this placement).
  2. Predict the full UK distribution of the species, and identify environmental predictors of that distribution. The student will collate existing data on the distribution of the bombylans from sources such as the NBN gateway and the Hoverfly Recording Scheme. They will then learn how to use these data to generate a species distribution model in Maxent software.

To apply, send a short (maximum one A4 page) letter of motivation and your CV to Dr Tom Reader ( by the 7th June 2021. Applicants must also complete the online EDI form (this form is a mandatory part of the application process, but contains ‘prefer not to say’ options for all questions asked). Please feel free to contact Dr Reader if you have any further enquiries or wish to discuss the opportunity further.

Applications are particularly encouraged from students from underrepresented groups in biological subjects at University, including students who are the first in their family to attend university, and those from BAME backgrounds or families with low income. Applications are also particularly encouraged from students whose current degree subject is in mathematics or the physical sciences, and who are interested in gaining experience of biological research.

Please note the eligibility criteria, selected students must meet all of the following criteria to be eligible for a REP. The students must:

  • Be undertaking your first undergraduate degree studies (or integrated Masters).
  • Be applying for a placement in a different department to your undergraduate degree
  • Be eligible for subsequent NERC PhD funding (PhD studentships eligibility criteria)