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Building species interactions into macroevolutionary analyses of trait and range evolution


Project Description

Many classical theories in evolutionary biology centre around the evolutionary impacts of competition between species. Most phylogenetic comparative methods (PCMs), however, have been designed with the assumption that lineages evolve independently of one another. This is true for existing models of trait evolution (e.g., Brownian Motion, Ornstein-Uhlenbeck, and their various offshoots) and models of historical biogeography used to infer ancestral ranges (e.g., the dispersal-extinction-cladogenesis [DEC] model). As a result, our ability to test hypotheses that make predictions about species interactions has been limited, in spite of the mounting recognition that such tests are critical for advancing the field.
Building on existing modelling frameworks, the student will design a set of inference tools to fit a model of a version of the DEC model of range evolution that incorporates interspecific competition in the form of both character displacement and competitive exclusion. The student will first build the tools to fit this model and explore its statistical properties. Then, the student will identify an empirical system (e.g., Lesser Antillean Anolis lizards, Hawaiian honeycreepers) on which to deploy this method to test the hypothesis that character displacement, rather than competitive exclusion owing to ecological competition for resources, is the primary force driving adaptive radiations.

Funding Notes

Durham Doctoral Studentship Studentship, 3.5 years if successful)
This project is in competition with others for funding. Success will depend on the quality of applications received, relative to those for competing projects. If you are interested in applying, in the first instance contact the supervisor, with a CV and covering letter (inquiries by 7 December 2018, please), detailing your reasons for applying for the project.

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