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Diversification along environmental gradients and its implications for organismal responses to climate change

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  • Full or part time
    Dr R Riesch
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Environmental gradients are ubiquitous, yet we still lack a proper understanding of the often-nuanced organismal responses along them. This problem is compounded by the fact that usually several different environmental gradients act simultaneously in natural systems, so teasing apart which environmental factor is driving which phenotypic response(s) can be quite challenging. However, gaining a better understanding of organismal responses along environmental gradients will be beneficial also for our understanding of, and ability to more precisely predict, organismal responses to human-induced environmental change (in particular with respect to climate change). This proposed project aims to address these issues by studying phenotypic responses of several widespread livebearing fishes of the family Poeciliidae (with a special focus on Poecilia vivipara and the invasive guppy, Poecilia reticulata) along several environmental gradients across Brazil (including gradients of temperature, salinity, pH, oxygen availability, and land-use). The student will employ an integrative approach that combines environmental, behavioural (mate choice and boldness), morphological (body shape and colouration), physiological (thermal tolerance), life-history, and population-genetic data to identify shared (i.e., parallel) and unique responses of different species and population to these different environmental gradients. The project will involve field work and potential lab work in Brazil, potential lab work (population genetics) in China, and lab work at Royal Holloway, University of London. This project has the potential to significantly contribute to our understanding of biological diversification as well as how human-induced habitat alterations affect biodiversity. The student will be trained in various different cutting-edge methods of quantifying phenotypic and genetic diversity.

Funding Notes

A fully funded studentship
Candidates are strongly advised first to check their eligibility for NERC funding on the London NERC DTP website and to make contact with the relevant lead supervisor when preparing their application.


Riesch R, M Plath, I Schlupp, M Tobler & RB Langerhans (2014) Colonization of toxic environments drives predictable life-history evolution in livebearing fishes (Poeciliidae). Ecology Letters 17(1):
Riesch R, T Easter, CA Layman & RB Langerhans (2015) Rapid human-induced divergence of life-history strategies in Bahamian livebearing fishes (family Poeciliidae). Journal of Animal Ecology 84(6): 1732-1743 website:
Moore MP, R Riesch & RA Martin (2016) The predictability and magnitude of life-history divergence to ecological agents of selection: a meta-analysis in livebearing fishes. Ecology Letters 19(4): 435-442.

How good is research at Royal Holloway, University of London in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 24.00

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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