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Host-parasite coevolution and the role of sex and inbreeding


Project Description

One of the fundamental questions in evolutionary biology is: why is sex the dominant mode of reproduction when it is so much costlier than reproducing asexually? One potential hypothesis is that the recombination associated with sexual reproduction generates genetic diversity and allows mothers to produce offspring that are resistant to rapidly and continuously evolving parasite populations. The “Red Queen” hypothesis predicts that hosts and parasites should continually change in response to one another but this requires variation on which fluctuating selection can act. Additionally, sex can also provide genetic benefits through intense sexual selection, where mothers mate with the fittest males. However, when inbreeding is common, the benefits of sex compared to asex could decline or even disappear, as recombination would generate less genetic diversity. This could be problematic, for example, when habitat fragmentation isolates populations and increases levels of inbreeding. Despite many years of theory, there are few conclusive experimental tests of these predictions.

We are seeking a motivated student to address this fundamental question. The student will be expected to contribute to the NERC-funded Stirling Outdoor Disease Experiment (SODE). SODE provides a perfect opportunity to test the relationships between host sex, sexual selection, inbreeding and host-parasite coevolution. SODE is an established long-term project where twenty replicate pond populations of the facultatively sexual freshwater crustacean Daphnia magna and its sterilising bacterial parasite Pasteuria ramosa have been maintained over multiple years. Each pond was initiated with the same suite of Daphnia genotypes and the same parasite population. Over the past four years, the populations have diverged, and the host populations have experienced different levels of inbreeding.

Results from this research will provide novel data that not only address this exciting question, but also have implications for understanding the drivers and mitigating factors concerning disease spread in small populations of conservation, agricultural or aquacultural value.

Funding Notes

The project is competition funded through an IAPETUS2 PhD Studentship Award that includes 3.5 years student stipend (at national UKRI standard rate), fees and research training support grant. Note that eligibility rules apply. Applicants must be British Citizens, although exceptions may apply for other EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for the last three years. Please check the IAPETUS2 website if you have concerns about your eligibility. View Website
The formal start date for the successful applicant is October 1st 2020

References

This project is part of the IAPETUS2 Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) and PhD students will receive substantial additional interdisciplinary training through this partnership.

Further information on the project, skills and training opportunities can be found here: https://www.iapetus2.ac.uk/studentships/host-parasite-coevolution-and-the-role-of-sex-and-inbreeding/


Candidates should ideally have a First Class Honours degree and Masters degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2:1 Honours degree may be considered provided they have a Distinction at Masters level. The formal deadline for applications is 12 noon on Friday January 10th 2020. However, serious applicants are strongly advised to get in touch well in advance of this to discuss their application: please email a CV and covering letter with the contact details (including email addresses) of two referees to Dr Stuart Auld ([email protected]). Your covering letter should clearly set out your suitability and motivation for this PhD with reference to your past experience and achievements. Appropriate applicants will be invited by Dr. Auld to make a full application to both to the IAPETUS2 website and to the University of Stirling.

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