Offres thèse et Stage M2 : Pollinator health & bee abundance, Virginia tech



The Couvillon Lab and the O’Rourke Lab, both at Virginia Tech, seek 2 (1 Ph.D., 1 M.S./Ph.D.) highly motivated students with a keen interest in pollinator health & native bee abundance and diversity to join our research groups. Students will begin in Fall 2020 or Winter 2021.


The Ph.D. student will be under the main supervision of Dr. Margaret Couvillon, Assistant Professor of Pollinator Biology and Ecology in the Department of Entomology, and co-advised by Dr. Megan O’Rourke, Associate Professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences. The M.S./Ph.D. student will be under the main supervision of Dr. O’Rourke and co-advised by Dr. Couvillon.


Available positions: One Ph.D. (4 years) and one M.S./Ph.D. (2 or 4 years) positions studying the survival, fitness, and performance of native and wild bees and pollinator communities and their abundance and diversity across different landscapes. Students should have a keen interest in native bee abundance and diversity and pollinator health in general.


* Expertise and/or interest in bee taxonomy and identification would be extremely helpful.


Application deadline: 1 DECEMBER, 2019, with video interviews in January 2020 and a decision in early February 2020.


Start date: Preferably Fall 2020 for Ph.D. student and Winter 2021 for M.S. student, but this is open to some negotiation.


Background: Lack of forage is a factor contributing to bee declines. This stressor can act directly, where hungry bees are unable to meet their nutritional needs, or indirectly, where the resulting nutritional stress reduces the bees’ ability to cope with other stressors like diseases and pesticides. Media coverage has been wide, and as a consequence, everyone wants to feed hungry bees. Such help is offered with best intentions, but efficacy is undermined by two crucial knowledge gaps: firstly, we do not fully understand the foraging dynamics of bees across diverse landscapes because the current methods of surveying, cataloging, and comparing floral abundance at a landscape-scale is intensely time-consuming. Secondly, nutritional stress is often studied either in honey bees (Apis mellifera spp.) or non-honey bees, creating a dichotomy that limits the usefulness of resulting recommendations. Thus, there is a critical need to develop new methods to survey forage on a landscape scale and whether a good landscape for feeding one type of bee is also a good landscape for feeding other bees. Only with such data may we implement a best management strategy for improving food availability to benefit overall pollinator health in a meaningful, targeted way.


These new studentships are part of a larger, 5 year ongoing project funded by FFAR (Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research), with Lead PI Couvillon and co-PIs O’Rourke, Taylor, and Schurch, all at Virginia Tech.


Potential applied and basic science projects may include these questions:

– What landscape characteristics are most associated with overall pollinator health?

– How does pollinator community diversity and abundance vary with landscapes?

– How does stressor exposure, such as to pesticides, affect abundance, diversity, and health of non-Apis bees?

– What plant communities are associated with landscapes that support diverse and abundant pollinator communities?

– How do honey bee foraging dynamics, as determined by previous work, relate to the abundance, diversity, and health of non-Apis bees? In other words, are honey bees good bioindicators for native and wild bee pollinators?


M.S. requirements:

– BS in Biology, Entomology, Landscape Ecology or related STEM field

– Fulfillment of requirements set out by the Department of Entomology at Virginia Tech and The School of Plant and Environmental Sciences

– An excitement for working with live, whole organisms (that sting!)

– A willingness to learn new skills, such as experimental design, scientific reproducibility, statistics, GIS, and insect identification

– Proficiency in English and excellent verbal and written communication skills

– A collaborative, helpful, team-oriented spirit


Additional Ph.D. requirements:

– An MS in Biology, Entomology, Landscape Ecology, or related STEM field or significant research experience, preferably with peer reviewed publications.

– Fulfillment of requirements set out by the Department of Entomology at Virginia Tech and The School of Plant and Environmental Sciences

– If you are from an international location where English is not your first language, you will be required to take the TOEFL (see Graduate School requirements)


Please note that the selected candidates for the positions must then apply and be accepted into the Graduate School at Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech is an equal opportunity employer.


We offer:

– A funded position (Ph.D. or M.S./Ph.D) working with economically vital and scientifically fascinating insects. The Ph.D. student will be supported at Step 12, whereas the M.S. student will be supported at Step 10.

– Training as a well-rounded, critically-thinking scientist

– Exciting combination of field studies and experiments with freely flying and behaving bees; new methods in video and landscape analysis with ArcGIS; opportunities to learn experimental design, scientific reproducibility, and statistical modelling

– Regular collaborations with other research teams in the department, university, and within the larger field

– A Departmental instructional program offering a variety of basic and applied courses


Blacksburg is a lovely college town set between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains with many outdoor opportunities, high standard of living, and a warm and welcoming community feel.



Please email your application to both Dr. Couvillon and Dr. O’Rourke as a single pdf attachment. Application should include a cover letter (1-2 pages) introducing yourself and describing your background and research interests, a CV (please include your undergraduate and/or graduate GPA, as these are requirements for entrance into the graduate school), GRE scores (if available – note that Entomology does not require GRES), and the contact information for two potential academic references before 1 December, 2019. Please remember to indicate which position interests you. A short list of candidates will be invited to interview over Skype in January 2020, and selection should occur by February 2020.


For more details on the research and our lab, please see or contact Dr. Maggie Couvillon ( or Dr. Megan O’Rourke ( directly. You may also « Join » our Facebook page The BeeGroup @ VT.



Couvillon, Schürch & Ratnieks (2014). Dancing bees communicate a foraging preference for rural lands in High Level Agri-Environment Schemes. Current Biol 24(11), 1212-1215.

Couvillon, Schürch & Ratnieks (2014) Waggle dance distances as integrative indicators of seasonal foraging challenges. PLOS One, 9 (4), e93495.

Couvillon & Ratnieks (2015). Environmental consultancy: dancing bee bioindicators to evaluate landscape « health ». Frontiers in Ecol and Evol 3, 44.


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