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Three PhD studentships - UK

Grant RW Humphries, November 28, 2015
 

Three competitive PhD studentship opportunities are available in evolutionary and ecological genetics at Durham University, UK. These 3.5-year fellowships provide a full tuition fee waiver at Durham University, a competitive living stipend, and a considerable research allowance. For more information about these projects contact Dr. Andreanna Welch at a.j.welch@durham.ac.uk

1) The effects of maternal stress response and microbiome on seal pup condition and survival.
Co-supervised with Sean Twiss

Maternal effects are now recognised as important contributors to phenotypic variation. One potential mechanism that has been largely overlooked is via the transfer of beneficial bacteria during birth and through lactation. Studies in humans have shown that these bacteria provide many health benefits to the young, but that communities transferred can be influenced by the mother’s condition and stress level. Adult grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) exhibit consistent individual differences in behaviour with some mothers showing high levels of responsiveness to stressors while others show little. The student will apply recently developed metagenomic techniques to investigate this potential short-term fitness consequence of maternal coping style. Seals are among the few animal species for which coping styles have been identified and linked with fitness consequences in wild populations. However, the mechanisms through which behavioural responses to stress modulate offspring condition and survival remain essentially unknown. Given that wildlife are increasingly impacted by anthropogenic influences, and that behaviour is often the first form of response to environmental changes, this project will provide important insights towards understanding how stress may influence individual fitness as well as future population trajectories.

Eligibility: Primarily UK nationals
Deadline for consideration: January 15th, 2016

2) Tracking the impact of Holocene environmental change in Patagonia on pinniped distribution, abundance and dispersion using ancient DNA.
Co-supervised with Rus Hoelzel

When environments change, as during the current process of anthropogenic climate change, regional populations may respond by migrating to track suitable habitat, they may expand, decline or go extinct, or they may adapt. In this study the student will employ next generation sequencing methods, ancient DNA, and coalescent analyses to determine past demographic profiles of two sympatric pinniped species with contrasting life histories along the coast of Patagonia, a region of major transitions during the Holocene. Thus students will have the opportunity to test hypotheses about the importance of various environmental parameters. Understanding these dynamics will become increasingly critical for effective management and nature reserve design to promote conservation in the future as environments change. This will also improve our understanding of the process of biodiversity evolution, which is determined by both effective population size and connectivity.

Eligibility: Primarily UK nationals
Deadline for consideration: January 22nd, 2016

3) Reconstructing the evolutionary history of ecological dynamics and extinction risk in Procellariiform seabirds

During their evolutionary history, birds have colonized the open oceans beyond the continental shelves only rarely. The Procellariiformes (albatrosses, shearwaters, storm- petrels, etc.) are by far the largest group of oceanic birds, but their molecular phylogeny is poorly known. As part of an international collaboration, the student will use capture enrichment and next generation sequencing methods to collect a rich genomic dataset and resolve the phylogeny of all extant and recently extinct Procellariiformes, at and below the species level. This will advance our understanding of the evolutionary history of oceanic birds, allow exploration of the role of ecology in diversification, and inform conservation management of this globally-threatened group.

Eligibility: All nationalities
Deadline for consideration: January 4th, 2016

Durham University is consistently rated as one of the top 100 universities in the world. Located in northeast England, the university is situated in a scenic town that lies within a 20-minute train ride of the thriving city of Newcastle. The department offers a supportive research-driven environment with projects ranging from the cellular to the ecosystem level.

To apply please send an email to a.j.welch@durham.ac.uk with:

  • a two-page covering letter detailing your reasons for applying and why you have selected this project,

  • your current CV with contact information for at least two references,

  • Full transcripts of previous qualifications obtained to date. Only the best applicants will be asked to submit an application.