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Do cryptic species matter? Investigating the ecological differences between earthworm cryptic species

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  • Full or part time
    Prof M Hodson
  • 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

The omics revolution has transformed the world of taxonomy. Almost over night, organisms that were once considered to be the same species on the basis of their morphology have been grouped into different cryptic species with significantly different genetics. However, amidst this wealth of genetic data a central unresolved question is: how far do genetic species differ from classical morphological species in their characteristics. In particular, do these genetic species have different ecological responses from the morphological species? This is an important question because it may reduce the value of ecological data obtained from morphological species in the absence of further breaking down into genetic species components. It goes right to the heart of what we should be measuring when we undertake environmental sampling.

We will examine this question using UK earthworms. They form an excellent study system for assessing the ecological importance of cryptic species because (1) they are drivers of key soil processes that result in the delivery of important ecosystem services such as food production and water filtration and (2) they are known to have multiple cryptic species.
This project will combine field work, classical taxonomy, controlled laboratory experiments and the application of omics technology.

You will collect earthworms from the field, learn how to identify them using classic taxonomic keys and design experiments to investigate their contribution to a range of soil processes such as soil drainage, soil structure formation and the break down of organic matter and nutrient cycling. You will then learn how to apply current omics technologies to identify species. By comparing and contrasting the ecology of individual earthworms you will then be able to determine whether cryptic species behave differently from other members of the same morphological species.
This project is suited to anyone with an interest in ecology who wants to combine laboratory experiments, field work and molecular analysis.

Funding Notes

This is a 3.5 year fully-funded studentship part of the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership in Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment (ACCE). The studentship covers: (i) a tax-free stipend at the standard Research Council rate (around £15,000 per year), (ii) tuition fees at UK/EU rate, (iii) research consumables and training necessary for the project.

Entry requirements: At least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent in any relevant subject that provides the necessary skills, knowledge and experience for the DTP, including environmental, biological, chemical, mathematical, physical and social sciences.


Shortlisting: Applicants will be notified if they have been selected for interview in the week commencing on Monday 28 January 2019.

Interviews: Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview to take place in the Department of Biology at the University of York in the week beginning 11 February 2019 (or the following week). As part of the interview process candidates will be asked to give a 5 minute presentation on a research project carried out by them.

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