Natural pest control services in UK agroforestry

Two rows of trees with grass growing underneath under a blue sky

Silvopasture agroforestry in Berkshire, UK

Combining tree row into crop fields (alley-cropping agroforestry) can benefit natural pest control services by recruiting and establishing population of natural enemies, e.g. predators and parasitoid wasps, that consume insect pests. 

Combining tree rows into crop fields (alley-cropping agroforestry) can benefit natural pest control services by recruiting and establishing populations of natural enemies, e.g. predators and parasitoid wasps, that consume insect pests.

The continued use of pesticides has reduced natural enemy populations while pests themselves are evolving pesticide resistance. We also face increased chances of pest outbreaks due to a changing climate. We thus need to find alternative, non-chemical, solutions for pest control in our fields as well as providing increased resources to support beneficial natural enemies.

This project will identify important species interactions that lead to increased pest control, explore how these can be exploited in cropping systems to maximise benefits, and understand how this knowledge can influence future policy making (in collaboration with Fera Science). The student will spend time both at Liverpool and the Natural History Museum in London, gaining from the diverse expertise available at both institutions.

We will survey invertebrate communities in field sites across the UK using standardised collection methods, such as flight interception traps, pitfalls, or suction sampling within both the crop and the tree rows.

Additional ecosystem functions can also be assessed using rapid ecosystem assessment methods, such as artificial prey removal or predator marks on plasticine caterpillars to estimate predation rates. We can test specific interactions (e.g. competition effects) under controlled conditions in our greenhouse or growth chamber space.

Also, in collaboration with project partners at Fera Science, we will explore how to incorporate the project outcomes into decision-making tools for farmers and policy-makers. 

The ideal candidate will be enthusiastic about working outside, be able to identify common invertebrates, and have an interest in agricultural policy. Training will be provided in experimental design, data collection and statistical analysis using R, and invertebrate identification including using molecular methods for cryptic species.


Studentships are open to UK and other EU students. Other nationalities (eg EEA countries) may be eligible - students should enquire with the project's respective postgraduate administration to see if they qualify for home fee rates. Up to nine studentships are available to EU students who do not ordinarily reside in the UK. Please note that this may be subject to change pending post-EU referendum discussions. All applicants need to comply with the registered university's English-language requirements.

Applicants should have obtained or be about to obtain a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have a master's degree. Applicants with a minimum Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

How to apply

To enquire about the project, use this online form.

Apply for this course through the University of Liverpool’s online system.

Read more about the ACCE Doctoral Training Partnership.

The deadline for applications is 15 January 2021.


Varah, A., Jones, H., Smith, J. & Potts, S.G. (2020) Temperate agroforestry systems provide greater pollination service than monoculture. Agriculture, ecosystems & environment, 301, 107031.

Zytynska, S.E. & Meyer, S.T. (2019) Effects of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes on the protective microbiome of insects - a review. Entomologia Experimentalis Et Applicata, 167, 2-13.

Senft, M., Clancy, M.V., Weisser, W.W., Schnitzler, J.-P. & Zytynska, S.E. (2019) Additive effects of plant chemotype, mutualistic ants and predators on aphid performance and survival. Functional Ecology, 33, 139-151.

Singh, A., Weisser, W.W., Hanna, R., Houmgny, R. & Zytynska, S.E. (2017) Reduce pests, enhance production: benefits of intercropping at high densities for okra farmers in Cameroon. Pest Manag Sci, 73, 2017-2027.

Apply for this project

Apply via the University of Liverpool website

Application deadline: 15 January 2021


The University of Liverpool

Main supervisor: Dr Sharon Zytynska

The Natural History Museum

Dr Alexa Varah


Dr Glyn Jones

UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Advisor: Prof Helen Roy

University of Liverpool

Second advisor: Dr Jenny Hodgson

ACCE Doctoral Training Partnership

Joint PhD training partnerships between the Natural History Museum and the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool and York, and the NERC’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH).

Funded by