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Genomic basis of extra-group paternity in the cooperatively breeding Seychelles warbler

   Faculty of Biological Sciences

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  Dr Hannah Dugdale  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Indirect genetic benefits are hypothesised to drive the evolution of extra-group paternity (EGP), yet its genomic basis is unknown. This is important, as promiscuity has widespread impact on reproductive skew, gene flow, sexual and kin selection. Studies are required to elucidate the genomic basis of EGP, and the consequences of this, to determine how and why this variation is maintained.

Most studies of natural populations cannot measure the evolutionary dynamics of EGP accurately. However, as Seychelles warblers almost never leave their resident islands and are closely monitored, survival, lifetime reproductive fitness and EGP rates can be estimated accurately. Seychelles warblers have an unusually high rate of EGP (40%), which varies among individuals and has been linked to “good genes”. This provides a rare opportunity to determine the genomic basis of EGP.

This PhD will use large-scale representational sequencing analysis from across the genome, combined with a genetic pedigree of >1800 individuals and detailed residency data, to quantify variation and identify genomic regions contributing to EGP. The student will develop expertise in quantitative and evolutionary genetics, genomic analysis and statistical modelling. With its uncompromised fitness estimates, detailed environmental data and well understood kin selection effects this dataset provides a unique and powerful resource for studying the genomic basis of extra-pair paternity.

The student will benefit from interactions with all members of Seychelles Warbler Project (http://seychelles-warbler-project.group.shef.ac.uk) and a vibrant academic environment at the University of Leeds, including training programs through LeedsOmics (http://www.leedsomics.org). They will be supervised by Dr Hannah Dugdale (Leeds) and Prof Terry Burke (Sheffield). They will collaborate with Dr Alex Sparks (Leeds), Prof David S Richardson (East Anglia), and Prof Jan Komdeur (Groningen).

We welcome applications from students with a background in biology or related disciplines such as Maths or Computer Science, where applicants have a keen interest in evolutionary biology. Students with a biological background must demonstrate good quantitative skills such as programming or statistics.

Previous experience of bird ringing, fieldwork in harsh environments, molecular techniques, bioinformatics, Access databases and statistics would be beneficial; however, excellent training will be provided (e.g. www.fbs.leeds.ac.uk/postgraduate/professionaldev.php). The student will be required to conduct fieldwork for a minimum of three seasons (up to 3 months per season).

Funding Notes

Self-funded candidates only. Candidates should have, or be expecting, a 2.1 or above at undergraduate level in a relevant field. If English is not your first language, you will also be required to meet our language entry requirements.

Please apply online here https://studentservices.leeds.ac.uk/pls/banprod/bwskalog_uol.P_DispLoginNon. Include project title and supervisor name, and upload a CV, letter of motivation and transcripts.


Hadfield JD, Richardson DS & Burke T (2006) Towards unbiased parentage assignment: combining genetic, behavioural and spatial data in a Bayesian framework. Molecular Ecology, 15, 3715–3730. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/wol1/doi/10.1111/j.1365-294X.2006.03050.x/abstract

Richardson, D. S., Komdeur, J., Burke, T., & Schantz, von, T. (2005). MHC-based patterns of social and extra-pair mate choice in the Seychelles warbler. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, 272(1564), 759–767. http://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2004.3028

Richardson, D. S., Komdeur, J., & Burke, T. (2004). Inbreeding in the Seychelles warbler: environment-dependent maternal effects. Evolution, 58(9), 2037–2048. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.0014-3820.2004.tb00488.x

Wright, D. J., Brouwer, L., Mannarelli, M. E., & Burke, T. (2016). Social pairing of Seychelles warblers under reduced constraints: MHC, neutral heterozygosity, and age. Behavioral Ecology, 27(1), 295–303. http://doi.org/10.1093/beheco/arv150

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