There is clear evidence of many plant and animal species adapting rapidly to human induced environmental change, but the extent to which this will lead to speciation is very poorly understood. Natural selection can drive the evolution of new ecotypes and species despite gene flow between the diverging populations. The evolution of reproductive isolation and eventual formation of new species may be facilitated by a controversial process called reinforcement. Reinforcement can occur when local adapted populations come into secondary contact producing maladaptive hybrids. Selection then acts to reduce geneflow by increase divergence in reproductive characteristics - accelerating the process of species formation. There are few examples of reinforcement in nature and even less understanding of the genetic architectures that allow reinforcement to take place, but it is a potentially important factor determining the rate at which species can adapt to new conditions and diverge in a rapidly changing world.
In this project, based at the University of Nottingham in close collaboration with Bangor University, the student will combine population genomics and genome assembly with plant ecology and phenotyping in the field to establish the genetic factors that underpin reinforcement. We will identify the genetic basis of local adaptation and flowering time displacement in Anthoxanthum odoratum and investigate genome architectures that facilitate coupling between loci involved in local adaptation and reproductive isolation.
The project offers opportunities for the student to gain experience in ecology, molecular biology, evolutionary genomics, and science communication. The studentship will be based within the Yant Lab, world leader in the use of large-scale genomics, addressing global issues in evolutionary genomics. It offers a dynamic and supportive training environment for young scientists and there will be opportunities for the student to work and train with collaborators in the Molecular Ecology and Evolution Bangor (MEEB) group.
Essential skills are a minimum 2:1 BSc or equivalent in Life Sciences, with good numerate skills and enthusiasm for evolutionary biology and genomics. Desirable skills are a postgraduate degree (e.g. MSc or MRes) and/or contribution to scientific publication, and molecular laboratory experience.
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