PhD Candidate in Adapting the Wires
Wageningen University Laboratory of Entomology

PhD candidate 'Adapting the wires'

Published on
March 23, 2021

Location Wageningen

We are looking for

An enthusiastic PhD - candidate keen to connect neuroscience and insect ecology by studying the brain activity and behavior of herbivorous caterpillars and butterfly pollinators.  

Insect metamorphosis represents one of the most extreme cases of neuronal remodelling, allowing the same individual to occupy vastly different ecological niches at different points in its life. As a caterpillar most lepidopterans feed on the leaves of their host plant, potentially threatening its survival. However, in their adult form many butterflies and moths are important pollinators, which help to ensure plant reproduction. In some cases, the caterpillars even attack the plant that is later pollinated by the very same adult insect. Currently, it is unclear how these two different types of insect-plant interactions are connected and whether experiences made by the leaf-feeding caterpillar will influence the behaviour of the adult pollinator. 

Olfactory information is crucial to nearly all aspects of insect life. In the brain, projection neurons play an important role in encoding relevant olfactory signals, such as volatiles emitted by the green leaves of a host plant or a nectar-rich flower. Interestingly, projection neurons in the caterpillar brain have been suggested to survive metamorphosis and might therefore, be able to retain experiences from the caterpillar to the adult stage of the insect.     

In this PhD-project we will use intracellular recordings in combination with bio-assays to follow the development individual projection neurons in response to different biotic and abiotic stimuli. Finally, we will use a molecular approach to determine the mechanisms underlying these changes in the neuronal development.

Together these approaches will allow us to address the question of how the insect nervous system is able to adapt between two vastly different lifestyles within one animal, while also conserving important experiences between the different life stages.

We ask

You are an enthusiastic and independent initiator who has:

  • An MSc degree related to entomology (biology, neurobiology or plant science);
  • Experience in neurobiological research of insects (intra- or extra cellular recordings, immunohistochemistry, dissections);
  • Experience with behavioral assays including video tracking and automated computer analyses;
  • Experience with molecular techniques.
  • Affinity with plants and large insects;
  • Willingness to help in culturing and maintaining insect lines;
  • Team player;
  • Fluent in English and capable of working in an international and multicultural team. This position requires an excellent English language proficiency (a mininum of CEFR C1 level). For more information about this proficiency level, please visit our special language page.

We offer

A challenging position with, depending on your experience, a competitive salary from a minimum of € 2395,- to a maximum of € 3061,- for a full working week of 38 hours in accordance with the Collective Labor Agreement Dutch Universities.
In addition, we offer:

  • 8% holiday allowance;
  • a structural year-end bonus of 8.3%;
  • excellent training opportunities and secondary employment conditions;
  • flexible working hours and holidays can possibly be determined in consultation so that an optimal balance between work and private life is possible;
  • excellent pension plan through ABP;
  • 232 vacation hours, the option to purchase extra and good supplementary leave schemes;
  • a flexible working time;
  • a choice model to put together part of your employment conditions yourself, such as a bicycle plan;
  • a lively workplace where you can easily make contacts and where many activities take place on the Wageningen Campus. A place where education, research and business are represented;
  • use the sports facilities on campus (if applicable)
Wageningen University & Research stimulates internal career opportunities and mobility with an internal recruitment policy. There are ample opportunities for own initiative in a learning environment.
We offer a versatile job in an international environment with varied activities in a pleasant and open working atmosphere.

More information

For more information about this function, please contact Alexander Haverkamp, or Marcel Dicke,
For more information about the procedure, please contact

This vacancy will be listed up to and including 30 April 2021.

We are

Wageningen University & Research The mission of Wageningen University and Research is “To explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life”. Under the banner Wageningen University & Research, Wageningen University and the specialised research institutes of the Wageningen Research Foundation have joined forces in contributing to finding solutions to important questions in the domain of healthy food and living environment.

With its roughly 30 branches, 6.500 employees and 12.500 students, Wageningen University & Research is one of the leading organisations in its domain. An integrated approach to problems and the cooperation between various disciplines are at the heart of Wageningen’s unique approach. WUR has been named Best Employer in the Education category for 2019-2020.

These are the points our employees list as good reasons to come work at WUR: read the 5 reasons to come work at WUR.

Information on the Laboratory of Entomology:

The Laboratory of Entomology of Wageningen University addresses the ecology of insects with a focus on understanding ecological phenomena in the context of the underlying mechanisms. At the Laboratory of Entomology the research teams consist of ambitious scientists and we aim at an interdisciplinary approach from cellular to community level to unravel biological phenomena underlying the functioning of plant-insect communities, insect vectored diseases, insect neurobiology and insects as food and feed. The Laboratory of Entomology is part of the Plant Sciences Group of the Wageningen University and Research Centre. The position is in the team of Dr. Haverkamp, that studies the neurobiology and behavioral ecology of insects. The group uses physiological, behavioral and molecular methods to investigate the role of the chemo-sensory system in the ecology of different insect species.

We will recruit for the vacancy ourselves, so no employment agencies please. However, sharing in your network is appreciated.

Equal opportunities

WUR is an equal opportunity employer. We are keen to receive applications from all sufficiently qualified people, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, functional impairment, religion/life philosophy, sexual orientation, or age.  

Apply now

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