Cardiff, UK: PhD, slug-weed interactions Tisk
BBSRC South West Doctoral Training Partnership, UK
Topic: Analysis of interactions between slugs and weeds in arable crops
using next generation sequencing
Main supervisor: Prof. William O.C. Symondson (School of Biosciences,
Cardiff University)

Second supervisor: Dr Ian P. Vaughan (School of Biosciences, Cardiff
Dr Pablo A. Orozco-terWengel (School of Biosciences, Cardiff University)
Dr James R Bell (North Wyke, Rothamsted Research)
Slugs are major crop pests throughout the temperate world, especially
in the UK where the climate fosters high densities, threatening profits
and food security. They are ecosystem engineers, having hierarchies of
preference for the seedlings of different weed and crop species that
alter subsequent plant community composition. Removal of weeds (with
herbicides) results in greater slug damage to the crop while slug control
(with molluscicides) is highly weather-dependent and slugs persist. Better
understanding of the preferences of slugs for different weed species
offers the opportunity to be more selective in the management of weeds
and slugs in major crops such as wheat and oilseed rape. Selective
herbicides can remove weed species less palatable to slugs, that are
likely to be major competitors (e.g. monocots like Blackgrass) with the
crop, while leaving seedlings that are palatable unharmed to potentially
divert slugs from consuming the crop.
Next Generation Sequencing will be used to analyse plant DNA in
gut and faecal samples collected from slugs to determine their
weed/crop preferences. We will target the ITS2 gene, exploiting
the near comprehensive database of Welsh and UK sequences that now
exists. Ratios of different plant species in the slugs will be compared
with the abundances of weeds and crop plants in fields using Monte Carlo
simulations and co-occurrence modelling to determine preferences. Plots
trials will calibrate our field results and test the viability of
selective weed control to protect crops.
The multidisciplinary team of supervisors will ensure major training
opportunities. WOCS will provide training in molecular analysis
of herbivory, using NGS; POTW will provide bioinformatics training
(NGS output); IPV will supervise Monte Carlo model development for
herbivory and JRB will advise on co-occurrence networks (for slug-weed
Rotations: 1) NGS of gut contents requires comprehensive barcode
databases for sequence identification. The student will be provided with
a self-contained set of material to barcode from ongoing work into the
diets of endangered species (supervisor WOCS). Expertise will be acquired
in both practical molecular analyses and tree construction. 2) A major
problem in diet analyses is differential DNA survival during digestion of
sequences from different species, compounded by factors such as amplicon
size and gene copy number. Feeding trials (using project-relevant slugs
and weeds) will be conducted and decay curves will be incorporated into
new Monte Carlo plant choice models (supervisor IPV). Training will be
in conducting trials and model development, both directly relevant to
the PhD.

For information please contact:
Prof. William O.C. Symondson

School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, Wales, UK

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