Open positions

4-year PhD studentship for international students  – apply by April 28th 2022 23:59 GMT

A fully funded 4-year PhD studentship for international students available in the research group of Dr Nathalie Stroeymeyt in the School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, to study the effect of temporal activity cycles on disease transmission dynamics in ant colonies.


Group living offers favourable conditions for the spread of infectious diseases, because high population densities and frequent social contacts facilitate pathogen transmission. To mitigate that risk, social animals have evolved a variety of defence mechanisms to prevent the entry and propagation of pathogens within the group, ranging from a raised investment in personal immunity to highly coordinated collective sanitary actions (‘social immunity’). Recent studies have shown that social groups can also adopt organizational features, such as the subdivision into well-separated subgroups, which reduce epidemic risk through transmission bottleneck effects. However, the importance of organizational immunity features in disease risk management by real animal groups is still poorly understood. Our research adopts an empirical approach based on the experimental manipulations of garden ant colonies (Lasius niger) to (i) quantify the effect of social organization on disease transmission and test key predictions from network epidemiology, and (ii) evaluate the relative of importance of personal immunity, collective sanitary actions and organizational features under different environmental conditions and at different stages of development (for more detail see

The project

Whilst recent experimental work has highlighted the importance of spatio-social organisation in shaping interaction networks and determining epidemic risks in ants [1], the prediction that temporal heterogeneities in activity should also have a strong impact on disease transmission within social groups has received very little attention [2, 3]. This PhD project will aim to use experimental manipulations to investigate the effect of short-term temporal activity cycles on transmission dynamics in ants. Using an automated behavioural tracking system [1, 3], the candidate will quantify short-term activity cycles within Leptothorax acervorum ant colonies and design reliable methods to manipulate these activity cycles (e.g. either disrupt them, accelerate them or slow them down). These methods will then be used to carry-out fully-controlled experiment testing the effect of experimental manipulations of the colony’s activity cycles on the transmission dynamics of both pathogenic and non-pathogenic agents through the colony. This project should provide the first formal empirical test of whether coordinated bursts of activity within a social group slows down the propagation of disease through ant colonies, and whether activity synchronization may be used as a strategy to fight diseases.

Desired profile

We are looking for candidates with a background in animal behaviour and/or computational biology, and an eagerness to learn and apply a variety of approaches (behavioural tracking, writing own code to analyse data, lab work). Candidates should be creative and motivated, have good oral and written communication skills, and be at ease working both independently and as part of a team. Candidates must be eligible for ‘home’ fee status in the UK.

The position

The position will be part of an overall project team consisting of three PhD students and three post-doctoral researchers and will be fully funded for four years (stipend + overseas tuition fees + bench fees) by the University of Bristol. Only international students that do not qualify for home fee status may apply.

Expected starting date

September 2022.

How to apply

If you are interested in applying, please get in contact with Dr Nathalie Stroeymeyt ( and consult the official add on FindAPhD (click here). Formal applications should be submitted on the online application portal (click here) by Friday April 28th 2022 23:59 GMT. More information on the Faaculty of Life Science studentships and other available projects can be found here.


1. Stroeymeyt, N., et al. Science, 2018. 362(6417): p. 941-945.

2. Richardson, T.O. and T.E. Gorochowski. Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 2015. 12(111).

3. Richardson, T.O., et al. PLOS Computational Biology, 2017. 13(5): p. e1005527.