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Evolution of mimicry: Genetic, morphometric, and functional origins of leaf mimicry in singing insects

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, December 01, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Mimicry is a remarkable Darwinian adaptation, and bush crickets whose wings resemble plant leaves are among the most spectacular examples of mimicry in the natural world. How has evolution by natural selection produced such precision in mimicry phenotypes, and matched them to such a wide variety of plant models? Crickets and bush crickets sing using their wings, so it is unclear how species with such extensively modified wing venation nevertheless manage to produce calling songs for attracting mates. Leaf mimicry in crickets is not only a spectacular example of a naturally-selected adaptation, but also an example of this occurring under significant sexual selection constraints.

The Evolution of Mimicry project aims to test hypotheses about the evolutionary origins of leaf mimicry in singing insects. The project will combine studies using a lab model system for cricket wing venation with research on Latin American leaf mimicking species. The model species is a field cricket (Teleogryllus oceanicus) which has recently lost the ability to sing because of disruption to typical wing venation, and as a result allows mapping the genetic architecture of wing venation. Information obtained from mapping crosses, morphometrics and functional resonance analyses of this species will be used to inform and test hypotheses about the genetics, constraints, and functional ecology of leaf mimicry in bush cricket species from Colombia.

As a PhD student, you will be based in Nathan W Bailey’s lab at the University of St Andrews and co-supervised by Fernando Montealegre-Z at the University of Lincoln. The project is flexible and will be tailored to suit the student’s main interests. The core elements include genetic mapping, morphometrics and vibrometry analysis to identify candidate genes controlling key morphological innovations thought to be involved in mimicry, complemented by analyses in leaf-mimicking species. A series of secondments to Montealegre-Z’s lab will be used to perform fieldwork on the functional ecology of Colombian species, in addition to using laser Doppler vibrometry to perform bioacoustic analysis.

Much of what we are looking for in your academic background is that you have a keen interest in evolutionary ecology! Your prior coursework, degree and background should also demonstrate proficiency with evolutionary and behavioural biology and experience with experimental design and quantitative analyses. Additional experience with geometric morphometrics, genomics, bioacoustics, and bioinformatics skills would be advantageous, but there will be scope to pursue local training opportunities in these and other areas to facilitate the research project.

The School of Biology at St Andrews is a highly dynamic collection of interdisciplinary research groups and supports a thriving postgraduate community. Seminars, training opportunities, informal gatherings and an emphasis on collaboration foster a collegiate atmosphere for study. Further enquiries can be directed to Nathan Bailey and Fernando Montealegre-Z, respectively: (, and (

Funding Notes

Eligibility requirements: Upper second-class degree in Biology or a related area.
Funding: Fees and stipend is provided for 3.5 years.


• Bailey NW, Pascoal S, Montealegre-Z F (2019) Testing the role of trait reversal in evolutionary diversification using song loss in wild crickets. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 116:8941-8949.
• Rayner JG, Aldridge S, Montealegre-Z F, Bailey NW (2019) A silent orchestra: convergent song loss in Hawaiian crickets in repeated, morphologically varied, and widespread. Ecology 302694.
• Baker A, Sarria-S FA, Morris GK, Jonsson T, Montealegre-Z F (2017) Wing resonances in a new dead-leaf-mimic katydid (Tettigoniidae: Pterochrozinae) from the Andean cloud forests. Zoologischer Anzeiger. 270:60-70.

How good is research at University of St Andrews in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 50.45

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

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