Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Category: CASE Studentships

Can fruit production and viticulture be enhanced by ecosystem services, including pest moth control, from wild mammals?

Project No. 2343


Primary Supervisor

Prof Fiona Mathews- University of Sussex


Dr Francis Wamonje- NIAB at East Malling

CASE partners: Avalon Fresh, Everflyht and Ecotype Genetics Ltd


Rationale: The potential for wildlife to contribute to pest control in agricultural systems is of growing interest to producers and consumers.

Orchards and vineyards are currently highly reliant on significant inputs of synthetic pesticides to deal with a variety of invertebrates including Tortricids and codling moths and so nature-based solutions could be particularly beneficial. In addition, sustainable agriculture needs to integrate wildlife and it is notable that most of Britain’s insectivorous mammals are of conservation concern (Mathews & Harrower 2021).

Insectivorous bats have shown economically-relevant pest-control functions for various crops, including rice, maize, cocoa, macadamia nuts, and grapes. In France, Portugal and Chile, the provision of bat boxes in vineyards reduced crop damage and increased product quality (Baroja, 2019; Charbonnier et al., 2021; Rodriguez et al., 2020). In addition, because of the large number of insects consumed per night, molecular analysis of bat guano is a promising sentinel system for identifying invasive crop pests (Maslo et al., 2017; Dekeukeleire et al., 2020). No research has been conducted on insectivorous mammals other than bats, yet these are likely to consume different species and life stages compared with bats.

Objectives of this PhD are to:

1. Assess the potential contribution of insectivorous mammals, including bats, hedgehogs and shrews to commercial fruit production.
2. Evaluate the role of these species in providing a sentinel for invasive pest monitoring.
3. Work with producers to test experimentally practical interventions that could potentially be applied at scale.

The project combines expertise in ecological surveillance, population modelling and molecular biology. Working with project partners to assess impacts on fruit quality and yield, the PhD will evaluate interventions to enhance wildlife populations and facilitate the delivery of ecosystem services at scale.

A student interested in wildlife conservation, natural pest control, molecular techniques, population modelling, and with an aptitude for fieldwork, would be suited to this PhD.