Modelling predator searching in plant canopies Supervisors: Dave Skirvin & Andrew Mead, Warwick HRI Research objectives The overall aim of this project is to determine how plant canopy structure interacts with the searching behaviour of predators to determine their efficiency as biological control agents of pests. Background information Due to increased pressure for the reduction of insecticides, there is an increasing reliance on the use of predators to control pests in commercial crops. The majority of biological control takes place within plant canopies, with predators actively searching the canopy to locate prey. The efficiency of a given predator will therefore be determined partially by the number and spatial arrangement of connections between plants in the canopy. Predators have a wide range of different searching strategies, and the rate at which prey are located will depend on the interaction of each particular strategy with canopy structure. By understanding this interaction between predator searching and canopy structure it should ultimately be possible to develop more effective strategies for the use of predators as biological control agents, adapted according to the plant canopy structure. This mini-project will use a simulation modelling approach to examine how canopy structure and predator searching behaviour interact to determine the efficiency of the location of prey by different predators. Within the mini-project the aim would be to examine one (or more) of the following topics: The impact of the number of connections between plants in a canopy on the speed with which predators are able to locate prey The effect of different searching strategies used by predators to locate prey on the time taken to locate prey Examination of the best strategy for release of predators when searching for multiple prey items within a canopy Other factors to be considered could include the prey density and movement, predator type and numbers, interactions between different predator types, and canopy size and composition. Prospective deliverables Depending on which of the topics above were chosen, the mini-project would deliver predictions regarding how canopy structure and predator searching strategies interact, summarised in terms of time to prey location. The mini-project would also deliver algorithms for the simulation of predator searching behaviour Techniques required Ability to program in a high level computing language (Fortran, C, C++ or Java) Ability to design and analyse simulation experiments Prospects for leading to a PhD project This mini-project would form the preliminary work to a PhD project examining the interplay between canopy structure and predator searching.