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“Plant plasticity and local adaptation to new pollinators after range expansion“

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, January 31, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Organisms can often rapidly adapt to changing environments. To understand this process, we need to study the potential of populations for rapid genetic responses and the contribution of other mechanisms, such as phenotypic plasticity. Identifying how these forces interact is an exciting challenge for the study of evolution and resilience of wild populations.
This PhD project will focus on plants that rapidly adapt to new pollinator environments. Over their evolutionary history, animal-pollinated flowers evolve adaptations to attract and fit their pollinators through many complex phenotypes such as floral rewards (e.g. nectar) and floral morphology. When confronted with new environments and pollinators, plants may need to adjust rapidly. Our work with a developing study system in recently colonised environments (Digitalis purpurea, the common foxglove) shows that floral morphology can change in a few generations under new pollinators (including larger bees and hummingbirds) but we still know relatively little about how this occurs. This system provides a natural experiment where we can compare native and non-native populations.

In this project we will use this exciting model system to examine how adaptation to new pollination environments takes place, and in particular, the role of phenotypic plasticity in the process. We will use a combination of approaches to answer specific questions that include:
1) Experimentally testing for local adaptation using translocation experiments in the field
2) Measuring plastic variation in floral traits in the greenhouse using quantitative genetics
3) Measuring pollinator-mediated selection on floral traits, including male components of fitness using novel techniques to track pollen grains

There will be scope for developing further new ideas with this system, including using molecular markers to study the phylogeography of invasion patterns.

Person specification
We seek an enthusiastic candidate with strong interests in plant-pollinator interactions and evolutionary biology. The project will have a significant field component in the UK and abroad (e.g. South and Central America), so it is essential that applicants are committed and available to spend time in the field. For fieldwork in the UK and abroad, a driving licence and driving experience are essential. Experience with plant growing and some knowledge of Spanish are highly desirable.

How to apply
Please submit a formal application using our online application system at, including a CV, degree transcripts and certificates, a statement of interest, and names of two academic referees. On the application system use Programme of Study – PhD Biology.

For enquiries about the project contact Maria Clara Castellanos () . Lab wepage:
For enquiries about the application process contact Emma Chorley ()

Funding Notes

This funded position, which covers fees and a stipend at standard RCUK rates, is open to Home / EU applicants.

Eligible candidates will have recently received an MSc and/or a First or high 2:1 BSc in a relevant subject. Candidates for whom English is not their first language will require an IELTS score of 6.5 overall, with not less than 6.0 in any section.

How good is research at University of Sussex in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 47.61

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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