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EASTBIO Genomics of frog colouration and the role of sexual and natural selection in speciation

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr Katerina Guschanski, Dr Simon Martin  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Animal populations that use different adaptive strategies are an ideal study system to uncover processes involved in early stages of speciation. The aim of this study is to understand the interplay of natural and sexual selection in generating biological novelty by using strawberry poison frogs as a study system. Theses amphibians are widely distributed in the Bocas del Toro archipelago in Panama and show a remarkable colour polymorphism, with up to 18 different colour morphs occurring in sympatry an allopatry. To avoid predation, the frogs adapt one of two strategies: aposematism (conspicuous warning colouration) or crypsis (inconspicuous colouration that blends in with surroundings). Because strawberry poison frog morphs mate assortatively, differences in coloration driven by natural selection (the predator avoidance strategy) may interact with sexual selection (preference for morphs of the same colour as oneself) and promote population differentiation. Thus, this study system offers a unique opportunity to investigate evolutionary forces that are at paly in the early stages of speciation.

 This project will make use of genomic and transcriptomic data to study demography, population differentiation, and the genomic basis of colouration in multiple cryptic and aposematic strawberry poison frog populations. Research questions include:

-         What is the genomic basis of crypsis and aposematism? Is colouration determined by a few loci or does it require changes in many genes? The genomics of colouration will determine the complexity of switching between predator avoidance strategies.

 -         What are the underlying changes in gene expression involved in generating colour polymorphism within the different strategies? How is the colour perceived and processed?

 -         Does population history/demography play a role in the predator avoidance strategy? Previous studies suggest that the variation in colouration among populations have occurred through repeated loss of aposematism. Could this loss be associated with population bottlenecks? Drift (particularly if colouration is based on few loci) or negative selection in small populations where educating predators to avoid aposematic prey is not successful could be the driving forces.

The project relies on a comprehensive transcriptomic dataset of several frog tissues, including skin, liver, eye and brain. It will be conducted in collaboration with researchers in UK, Sweden and Germany.




The School of Biological Sciences is committed to Equality & Diversity: https://www.ed.ac.uk/biology/equality-and-diversity

The “Institution Website” button will take you to our online Application Checklist. From here you can formally apply online. This checklist also provides a link to EASTBIO - how to apply web page. You must follow the Application Checklist and EASTBIO guidance carefully, in particular ensuring you complete all the EASTBIO requirements, and use /upload relevant EASTBIO forms to your online application.

Funding Notes

This 4 year PhD project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership http://www.eastscotbiodtp.ac.uk/how-apply-0
This opportunity is open to UK and International students and provides funding to cover stipend at UKRI standard rate (£17,668 annually in 2022) and UK level tuition fees. The fee difference will be covered by the University of Edinburgh for successful international applicants, however any Visa or Health Insurance costs are not covered. UKRI eligibility guidance: Terms and Conditions: https://www.ukri.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/UKRI-291020-guidance-to-training-grant-terms-and-conditions.pdf International/EU: https://www.ukri.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/UKRI-170321-InternationalEligibilityImplementationGuidance.pdf

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