The Evolutionary Significant Unit (ESU) concept was developed to provide a rational basis for prioritizing conservation effort: it defines unique population(s) that have evolved independently (Ryder, 1986). ESUs may exist as isolated, viable populations and their habitats should be protected but to effectively assess the long-term viability of a population, there is a need to understand its adaptive potential as well as to describe its genetic variability in depth (Week et al. 2016).
The red squirrel is endangered in the British Isle where the species is almost absent in England (Gurnell et al. 2004). The Isle of Wight is of major conservation interest as with a population of around 3,000 individuals, it is home to the main population of red squirrels in Southern England. The red squirrels on the island are geographically isolated, but also genetically unique, and therefore form their own distinct ESU (Hardouin et al. 2019). Low genetic diversity and population fragmentation have also been found and could be of concern for the long-term future of the population (Hardouin et al. 2021). There is therefore the need to investigate the long-term population viability of this emblematic population.
The project will:
Obj 1: Investigate the impact of human feeding on the Isle of Wight squirrels.
Fluctuation of red squirrel populations is linked to food availability (Krauze-Gryz et al. 2021) and is the primary factor which influence red squirrel density, survival, and reproduction (Wauters & Lens, 1995). Isle of Wight squirrels benefit from anthropogenic feeding however the proportion of this type of food in the overall diet of the individual is not known. As food availability is important for squirrel survival, it is crucial to understand the influence on supplementary feeding on population survival.
Obj 2: Investigate the population viability of the Isle of Wight red squirrels.
Population viability analysis does incorporate ecological data (food availability, survival, reproduction etc.), genomic and geographical data to understand the extinction risk of population. The red squirrel genome will be screened using Restriction-site DNA associated tags (RAD seq). This genomic data as well as the results obtained from Obj 1 will be used to investigate the population viability using different scenario.
Obj 3: Investigation of inbreeding on the Isle of Wight using genomic tools
Inbreeding is a major concern for conservation as it decreases fitness and increases population extinction. The genomic data generated in Obj2 will allow the calculation of inbreeding coefficients with great precision at an individual level and will allow estimation of its strength.
Obj 4: Identify wildlife populations under threat from climate change.
In the context of an ever-changing environment, genetic variants increase the chances of population survival under new environmental conditions and can help conservation management by identifying populations at risk and possible donor populations (Razgour et al. 2018). Genomic data from red squirrel populations from across Europe will be used to find genetic variants associated with environmental adaptation and to identify populations which might be at risk of extinction.
How to apply:
Applications are made via Bournemouth University’s website by clicking ’institution website’ button. If you have an enquiry about this project please contact us via the ’Email institution’ button, however your application will only be processed once you have submitted an application form as opposed to emailing your CV to us.
Candidates for a PhD Studentship should demonstrate outstanding qualities and be motivated to complete a PhD in 4 years and must demonstrate:
- Outstanding academic potential as measured normally by either a 1st class honours degree (or equivalent Grade Point Average (GPA) or a Master’s degree with distinction or equivalent
- An IELTS (Academic) score of 6.5 minimum (with a minimum 6.0 in each component, or equivalent) for candidates for whom English is not their first language and this must be evidenced at point of application.
Additional eligibility criteria:
This project will be mostly lab-based, so the candidate should have previous experience with DNA work.