In just 50 years the global Seychelles warbler population has recovered from <30 birds on a single island, Cousin, to a population of several thousand on multiple islands thanks to a combination of habitat restoration and translocation. Over the last 20 years, we have intensively studied the entire Cousin population, which has grown 10-fold. The study has revealed the negative effects of inbreeding on fitness in this population.
This project will analyse the genomes of 1,500 warblers, in combination with complete life history data, to precisely quantify the effects of inbreeding on individual fitness in the Cousin population and to compare the contributions of different regions of the genome and classes of genes to inbreeding.
As the bottleneck in this species was recent, and the contemporary population size remains historically small, we hypothesise that genetic variation will continue to be eroded by inbreeding. The project will therefore model the further loss of diversity due to inbreeding and consider management strategies to minimise the further depletion of genetic diversity in the species. The results will inform management plans for this and other species of conservation concern.
The Seychelles warbler was critically endangered but four pioneering translocations have reduced the risk. Translocation is now an increasingly important conservation tool in a range of contexts. The results will contribute to the next IUCN assessment of whether the recovery programme is effective and complete, whether deliberate population exchanges are desirable, and influence the design of other translocation programmes. This will be one of the first conservation genetic studies to produce an explicit, evidence-based and implementable management plan to maintain evolutionary potential.
The project will involve fieldwork on Cousin Island, and bioinformatic and statistical data analysis. The student will join the Seychelles Warbler Project, which is a collaboration between Sheffield and the Universities of East Anglia and the University of Groningen; the student will therefore interact and collaborate closely with the wider team at all three locations.
Applicants should have good undergraduate or masters qualifications in a biological subject with a significant component of evolution, ecology and/or genetics. Training in all the required methods will be provided. Applicants should have a keen interest in learning field and laboratory skills, including bioinformatics, statistics, conservation genetics, and evolutionary theory. Your application (via https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/postgraduate/phd/apply/applying) should include an attached statement explaining why you want to undertake this Ph.D. project.