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Evolution Education Trust PhD project: Complexity and convergence in arthropod evolution

   Department of Life Sciences

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  Prof Matthew Wills  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

The University of Bath is inviting applications for this funded PhD opportunity based at the Milner Centre for Evolution, a unique, cross-faculty research centre bridging biology, health and education. The Centre is dedicated to a broad range of fundamental research questions relating to evolutionary biology; from in deep time to the micro-evolutionary dynamics of a disease outbreak. We have a strong focus on public engagement and outreach. We are located in a dedicated multi-million-pound building that opened on the University campus in September 2018.

Start Date:

Monday 2 October 2023

Intended Supervisory Team:

Lead Supervisor: Prof Matthew Wills (Milner Centre for Evolution, Department of Life Sciences, University of Bath)

Co-Supervisors: Dr Alex Jeffries (University of Bath) and Dr Marcello Ruta (University of Lincoln)

Overview of the Research:

Life has indisputably become more diverse and complex over the last few billion years. However, it is unclear whether this is a passive and diffusive process, or whether there are widespread driven trends towards convergent complexification in multiple parallel lineages. While analyses of macroevolutionary trends are burgeoning, there are remarkably few studies of complexity. This project will use the serially homologous and differentiated bodies of arthropods as the ultimate system in which to address this question.

Arthropods are dizzyingly diverse, both today and throughout the fossil record. There are four major living “groups”: insects, crustaceans, chelicerates (e.g., spiders) and myriapods (e.g., millipedes). To this we can add the extinct trilobites and a rich variety of other fossil taxa.

Using living species as the key to interpreting the past, we will use molecular trees as independent benchmarks against which to quantify homoplasy in different body regions and aspects of morphology. We will initially use complexity indices derived from counts and groupings of limbs and body segments since such data can be gathered for large numbers of species. We will compare this with shape and morphometric data wherever possible, and explore the relationship between complexity and morphological disparity.

The nature of trends will be tested with a variety of ancestor-descendant and subclade skewness tests. We expect to find different patterns in different lineages, and ultimately we hope to link these to specific shifts in body plan and ecology. 

Candidate Requirements:

Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, a First Class or good Upper Second Class Honours degree (or the equivalent) in a relevant discipline. A master’s level qualification would also be advantageous.

Non-UK applicants must meet our English language entry requirement.

Enquiries and Applications:

Candidates are encouraged to discuss the project directly with Prof Matthew Wills before applying (email address: [Email Address Removed]).

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Biology.

On the application form, quote ‘Evolution Education Trust’ in the Finance section and the supervisor’s name and project title in the ‘Your research interests’ section. If applying for more than one project, quote the projects in order of preference and upload a separate personal statement relevant to each one.

Your application must be complete when you submit it to us. Incomplete applications cannot be considered. Please ensure you have completed all fields on the application form and supplied the contact details of TWO referees willing to provide us with a reference when requested (one must be from your most recent place of study). Also, you should ensure that you have uploaded all the required documents. See our website for more information.

Funding Eligibility:

To be eligible for funding, you must qualify as a Home student. The eligibility criteria for Home fee status are detailed and too complex to be summarised here in full; however, as a general guide, the following applicants will normally qualify subject to meeting residency requirements: UK nationals (living in the UK or EEA/Switzerland), Irish nationals (living in the UK or EEA/Switzerland), those with Indefinite Leave to Remain and EU nationals with pre-settled or settled status in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme). This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. Additional information may be found on our fee status guidance webpage, on the GOV.UK website and on the UKCISA website.

Exceptional Overseas students (e.g. with a UK Master’s Distinction or international equivalent and relevant research experience), who are interested in this project, should contact the lead supervisor in the first instance to discuss the possibility of applying for supplementary funding.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion:

We value a diverse research environment and aim to be an inclusive university, where difference is celebrated and respected. We welcome and encourage applications from diverse backgrounds and under-represented groups.

If you have circumstances that you feel we should be aware of that have affected your educational attainment, then please feel free to tell us about it in your application form. The best way to do this is a short paragraph at the end of your personal statement.

Funding Notes

Candidates applying for this project may be considered for a 3.5-year fully-funded Evolution Education Trust Studentship which will cover tuition fees at the Home rate, a tax-free maintenance allowance at the UKRI Doctoral Stipend rate (£17,668 for 2022/23) and a generous budget for research, training and outreach expenses. Eligibility criteria apply – see Funding Eligibility section above.

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