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Is the Arctic an engine of phenotypic and cultural diversity?

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Saturday, January 11, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The latitudinal diversity gradient, a pattern of high species richness in tropical regions relative to temperate regions, is one of the most striking patterns of present-day biodiversity. Recent research, however, has revealed a surprising, paradoxical latitudinal pattern in evolutionary rates: rates of phenotypic evolution are faster in high-latitude regions (including the Arctic) for many different taxonomic groups. Why are the Arctic and other high-latitude regions such engines of diversity? Uncovering the historical mechanisms that drove rapid evolution in the Arctic may shed light on the fate of Arctic ecosystems in the future. For instance, could rapid rates of evolution among Arctic organisms mean that such habitats will be resilient to the impacts of rapid climate change? Or, alternatively, will the global redistribution of fauna impose novel competitive interactions upon arctic lineages that hamper their ability to respond to change? The student will use publicly available phenotypic and global range datasets from an array of different vertebrate groups (e.g., fish, mammals, and birds) to test these hypotheses using novel phylogenetic comparative methods. The student will also have the chance to investigate whether analogous processes apply to cultural diversification among human populations in the Arctic, using a cultural evolutionary framework. For instance, previous comparative analyses suggest that the latitudinal diversity gradient applies not only to biological but also to linguistic diversity.

If successful, the student would join the third cohort of students in the DurhamARCTIC training and research centre, funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The student would gain a number of highly transferrable skills, such as computational techniques, data organisation and management, and coding in R. In addition, the studentship provides a number of interdisciplinary training opportunities, including an international placement and access to several skills workshops.

Keywords: latitudinal gradients, phylogenetic comparative methods, cultural evolution, arctic

Applicants are encouraged to contact Dr Drury by 13 December 2019 at the latest.

Funding Notes

This project is in competition with others for funding. Success will depend on the quality of applications received, relative to those for competing projects. If you are interested in applying, in the first instance contact the supervisor, with a CV and covering letter, detailing your reasons for applying for the project.


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