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EASTBIO Dissecting the causes of reproductive mode variation in the yellow monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus)

  • Full or part time
    Dr M Hartfield
    Dr M Vallejo-Marin
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, January 05, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Perennial plants exhibit a wide variety of reproductive modes, from exclusively sexual reproduction through seeds, to relying almost entirely on asexual propagation. Various theories exist to explain the evolutionary and ecological advantages of these reproductive modes, but testing theories can be hampered by a lack of empirical data. The facultative sexual plant Mimulus guttatus (yellow monkeyflower) is an exciting model system for investigating the evolution of different reproductive modes, as it there is a large amount of variation in the relative contribution of sexual and asexual reproduction, with populations spanning different environments and ecological niches. By investigating genetic diversity across populations and linking it to the local reproductive mode across environments, we can ask: are different modes (sex or asex) associated with specific ecogeographic regions? To what extent is the reproductive mode affected by local ecological conditions, compared to large environmental factors such as climate? How does reproductive mode (sex, asex) and mating–system (selfing, outcrossing) interact?

The PhD project will use Mimulus guttatus as a model system for investigating the evolution of reproductive modes. This species was introduced into the UK in the 1800s from Western North America, and is currently widespread throughout the British Isles. Previous work has showed that introduced populations exhibit large variation in reproductive mode, ranging from highly clonal to highly sexual. However, it remains to test what evolutionary factors underlie these differences in reproduction. The student will generate new genomic data from previously–collected samples to quantify the extent of self-fertilisation and clonal reproduction in natural populations in the introduced range. These data will allow us to investigate how the evolutionary history differs between populations exhibiting different reproductive modes. There will also be scope to develop theoretical models to further investigate the consequences of reproductive mode on genetic variation. The project will provide the student with cutting-edge genomics and bioinformatics skills, which are essential for modern biological research, and put them at the forefront of developing an exciting new model for evolutionary genetics study.

The main themes of the project are as follows:

• The student will obtain genome data for Mimulus guttatus, which will then be analysed to determine to what extent if the reproductive mode differs across the UK. Existing data shows that the degree of clonality varies depending on the population. What are the proportions of asexual reproduction and self–fertilisation across populations? Are there any environmental, climatic or ecological factors that correlate with these reproductive modes?

• The student will subsequently determine the population history of these samples and investigate if different degrees of asexual and sexual reproduction arose at specific times in the past. There will be scope to compare genome sequences with those from the United States. Can we reconstruct the invasion history of introduced populations? What was the expected size of the ancestral population? Was the initial UK population associated with a certain reproductive mode? There will also be opportunities to determine how the impact of natural selection differs across populations.

Funding Notes

The “Visit Website” button will take you to our Online Application checklist. Complete each step and download the checklist which will provide a list of funding options and guide you through the application process. Follow the instructions on the EASTBIO website (you will be directed here from our application checklist), ensuring you upload an EASTBIO application form and transcripts to your application, and ticking the box to request references. Your referees should upload their references using the EASTBIO reference form, in time for the 5th January deadline so please give them plenty of time to do this by applying early.


• Brandvain et al. 2014 “Speciation and Introgression between Mimulus nasutus and Mimulus guttatus”. PLoS Genet. 10(6): e1004410.

• Pantoja et al. 2017 “Genetic variation and clonal diversity in introduced populations of Mimulus guttatus assessed by genotyping at 62 single nucleotide polymorphism loci”. Plant Ecol. Divers. 10(1): 5–15.

• Troth et al. 2018 “Selective trade-offs maintain alleles underpinning complex trait variation in plants” Science 361(6401): 475–478.

How good is research at University of Edinburgh in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 109.70

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