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  Barking up the right tree: the evolutionary and ecological drivers of niche diversification and an adaptive radiation in the feather-legged Assassin bugs.

   Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

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  Dr V Kriechbaumer  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Oxford Brookes University

Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

Department of Biological and Medical Sciences 

3 Year, full-time funded PhD Studentship

Project Title: Barking up the right tree: the evolutionary and ecological drivers of niche diversification and an adaptive radiation in the feather-legged Assassin bugs.

Director of Studies: Dr Verena Kriechbaumer

Other supervisors: Dr Matt Bulbert, Dr Saad Arif; Professor Christiane Weirauch (University of California Riverside)

Project Description:

Would you like to do fieldwork in Australia while developing expertise in genomics, systematics, ecology and behaviour through a UK-US collaboration? In this project you will investigate how an interplay between habitat use and dietary specialisation is potentially responsible for driving niche separation and a suspected adaptive radiation in the Feather-legged Assassin bugs (Reduviidae: Holoptilinae). The feather-legged assassin bugs are specialist ant-eaters that use unparalleled luring strategies to capture their prey. Their distribution is largely restricted to the tropics of the old-world continents of Africa, Asia and Australia. Uniquely to Australia though we see shifts in morphology, and habitat preference, and a seven-fold increase in body size in a single genus. We hypothesize this shift in characteristics is driven by the unique diversity of predatory ant species to Australia and dispersal to new habitat types. This project aims to reconstruct a comprehensive phylogeny of these bugs, using cutting-edge phylogenomic methods, with an emphasis on the Australian endemics, in order to answer questions like (but not limited too): Did adapting to being bark fauna pre-date the spread of feather-legs to drier and hotter climatic zones? Has an escalation in body size, reminiscent of an adaptive radiation, occurred through either a co-evolutionary arms race or trailing exploitation? Does the shift in body size and leg morphology reflect a co-option from using legs for defence against ants to a predatory device to feed on ants? For this project you will be based in the Conflict Ecology Lab at Oxford Brookes University, travel to Australia for fieldwork and gain excellence in systematics from one of the world’s leading entomology departments based at the University of California, Riverside, USA.

Contact: [Email Address Removed]


Applicants should have a first or upper second-class honours degree from a Higher Education Institution or acceptable equivalent qualification in biological science or related discipline. Non-UK Applicants must have a valid IELTS Academic test certificate (or equivalent) with an overall minimum score of 7.0 and no score below 6.0 issued in the last 2 years by an approved test centre. 

The studentship requires you to undertake 6 hours teaching per week during semester time.

How to apply: Applicants should email [Email Address Removed] to request an application form.  



Biological Sciences (4)

Funding Notes

Eligibility: Home, EU and International applicants
Closing date: 3 February 2022
Start Date: September 2022
Bursary p.a.: Bursary equivalent to UKRI national minimum stipend plus fees (2021/22 bursary rate is £15,609)
Fees and Bench fees: will be met by the University for the 3 years of the funded Studentship.