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Evolutionary Conflict Over Maternal Diet


Project Description

A key assumption in animal nutrition is that, when given a choice, individuals will choose optimal diets that maximize their reproduction and lifespan. However, evolutionary theory predicts that there will be conflicts of interest over maternal diet, where the best diet for mothers to eat might differ from the perspective of females, their mates and their offspring. When these evolutionary conflicts exists, males will do best if they can influence female diet choice, so that females eat the diet that is best for males and the offspring they sire.

In fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster), males have a potential mechanism by which they might influence the feeding behaviour of their mates: seminal proteins, which dramatically influence female physiology and behaviour, including foraging behaviour.

The goal of this project is to explore the extent of evolutionary conflict between females, males and offspring over maternal diet, and to test the extent to which males have evolved ways to alter female diet choices and females have evolved resistance to male manipulation.

The project will involve:
- Testing female diet preferences when females are exposed to varying social and sexual environments
- Measuring the diet composition that maximizes maternal, paternal and offspring fitness
- Behavioural experiments using genetically altered male fruit flies with altered seminal protein profiles
- Experimental evolution of nutritional phenotypes in response to experimental manipulation of evolutionary conflict

Potential extensions include comparative work across the Drosophila clade.

These experiments will tell us the extent to which maternal diet preferences are a function of female or male control. These studies the potential to significantly change our understanding of evolutionary conflict over maternal diet.

A student pursuing this project will gain expertise in laboratory skills and techniques that can be readily transferred to other projects and organisms. These include behavioural assays, Drosophila biology, experimental design, data analysis and scientific writing.

Application procedure details at: https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/graduate/courses/dphil-zoology?wssl=1. The application deadline is 25th January 2019.

Funding Notes

Funding is competitive, via either University/Departmental Studentships or Doctoral Training Centres (View Website).

References

Morimoto J, Wigby S (2016) Differential effects of male nutrient balance on pre-and post-copulatory traits, and consequences for female reproduction in Drosophila melanogaster. Scientific Reports 6: 27673.

Perry JC, Joag R, Hosken DJ, Wedell N, Radwan J, Wigby S (2016) Experimental evolution under hyper-promiscuity in Drosophila melanogaster. BMC Evolutionary Biology 16:131

Perry JC, Harrison PW, Mank JE (2014) The ontogeny and evolution of sex-biased gene expression in Drosophila melanogaster. Molecular Biology and Evolution 31: 1206-19

Carazo P, Tan CKW, Allen F, Wigby S, Pizzari T (2014) Within-group male relatedness reduces harm to females in Drosophila. Nature 505: 672–675

Perry JC, Sirot LK, Wigby S (2013) The seminal symphony: how to compose an ejaculate. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 28: 414-22

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

FTE Category A staff submitted: 223.80

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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