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Genomic architecture of inbreeding depression in butterflies

Institute of Integrative Biology

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Dr I J Saccheri , Dr V Oostra No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Small and fragmented populations often suffer from reduced fitness due to inbreeding depression, which may impact population growth and persistence. Classical population genetics theory posits that the alleles giving rise to inbreeding depression are unconditionally deleterious recessives, introduced by mutation and eliminated by purifying selection. Increasingly, however, there is an acknowledgement that these factors alone cannot account for the magnitude of inbreeding depression observed in a range of organisms. Additional factors, such as intra-locus conflict (sexually-antagonistic pleiotropy) and overdominance (heterozygote advantage), could explain the discrepancy but direct evidence is very limited. If a significant part of the genetic load is maintained through balancing mechanisms, it becomes much harder to remove them, as well as linked genetic diversity.

The Afrotropical butterfly, Bicyclus anynana, is highly sensitive to inbreeding at different stages of its life cycle and serves as an attractive model for studying this problem. The laboratory stock in Liverpool is derived from a natural population originally brought into the lab in 1990. Archival DNA samples at different time points over ~160 generations in captivity allow the measurement of changes in genetic diversity across the genome, which in turn provide insight into the factors producing the patterns. Breeding experiments with butterflies will be used to genetically map genes causing inbreeding depression, to explore inbreeding avoidance behaviour, and to measure variation in inbreeding depression among Bicyclus species.

Interests and skills should include one or more of the following: evolutionary genetics; genomics; entomology; conservation biology; bioinformatics; simulation modelling.

Funding Notes

Competitive funding of tuition fee, research costs and stipend (£15,009 tax-free, 2019-20) from the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership “Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment” (ACCE, ). ACCE – a collaboration between the Universities of Liverpool, Sheffield,and York – is the only dedicated ecology/evolution/conservation Doctoral Training Partnership in the UK.

Applications (CV, letter of application, 2 referees) by email to [Email Address Removed] deadline: January 8th 2020. Interviews in or after the week commencing : 10th February 2020. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed for only one project from the ACCE partnership.


Saccheri, I. J., Lloyd, H., Helyar, S. & Brakefield, P. M. 2005. Inbreeding uncovers fundamental differences in the genetic load affecting male and female fertility in a butterfly. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 272: 39-46.

Oostra, V., Saastomoinen, M., Zwaan, B. J. & Wheat, C. W. 2018. Strong phenotypic plasticity limits potential for evolutionary responses to climate change. Nature Communications 9: 1005. doi:10.1038/s41467-018-03384-9
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