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  QUADRAT DTP: How does the holobiome respond to climate change? Discovering how microbe-host interactions promote or hinder natural range shifts in damselflies

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Prof Lesley Lancaster, Prof C Creevey, Prof Cecile Gubry-Rangin, Dr Greta Bocedi, Dr C MacAdam  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

As climates warm, many species are now able to colonise new regions poleward of their ancestral geographic ranges. In some cases, range shifting negatively affects local communities, for instance if newcomers out-compete native residents or transmit new diseases. In addition, there is high variability among taxa in range shifting rates, meaning that some species are more vulnerable to future warming, if they are unable to track changing climates. Thus, understanding the mechanisms that promote or hinder range shifts remains an important and open question for improving future biodiversity and ecosystem services in a changing world, and to advance our fundamental understanding of ecological and evolutionary processes. 

 One important aspect of individual life history that is gaining increasing attention for impacting wider ecological processes is the concept of the holobiont: a single macroscopic host organism together with the wider community of microscopic organisms that colonise it (Koide, 2022). This may include bacteria, archaea, viruses, fungi, and animals that function as parasites, symbionts, and commensals which together can influence changes in host behaviour, physiology, or even morphology. The holobiont may therefore be critical for understanding variation in range shifting rates among host organisms, for instance via interactive impacts on dispersal ability, mating success, environmental tolerances, and habitat selection in new environments. However, this hypothesis has received little attention to date, providing the student with the opportunity to produce ground-breaking research on this topic. 

 The student will join an existing project team consisting of 3 postdocs and a network of academic collaborators from the UK, Sweden, Finland, Australia, and New Zealand, who are currently researching the evolutionary genetics of range shifting in the common blue tailed damselfly (Ischnura elegans). This species is rapidly shifting to higher latitudes in Northern Europe in response to climate change. We have already identified genetic changes (Dudaniec et al. 2018) and changes in microbial symbionts (Deng et al. 2021) associated with this range shift. We are currently funded to sample additional, parallel range shift transects for I. elegans in Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, and Finland, with the aim to understand how genetic and community differences explain variation in range shifting success. The student will join the team to contribute knowledge on the holobiont, how it shifts across latitudes and with organismal development, and how these patterns relate to changes in dispersal and population characteristics along the four transects. There will be ample opportunity for fieldwork, networking with non-academic partners and stakeholders, and creative freedom for the student to develop their own project directions.  

 The supervisory and project team will provide support and training in evolutionary ecology, population ecology, microbial ecology, and techniques in genetics, bioinformatics, statistical analysis, and eco-evolutionary modelling. The project will combine fieldwork, molecular genetics, and modelling to explain how holobiont turnover interacts with species’ responses to climate change. Project partner Buglife will further offer a 3-month internship to provide the student with experience in a more applied research and outreach setting. 

 For all informal inquiries about the project, please contact Lesley Lancaster ([Email Address Removed]). 

Candidate Background: The candidate is expected to have a good understanding of evolutionary principles, and a strong interest and motivation in delivering new insight in global change ecology. Experience is molecular ecology wet lab and/or bioinformatic or other programming experience is desirable.

More project details are available here:

How to apply: 

Biological Sciences (4) Environmental Sciences (13)

Funding Notes

QUADRAT studentships are open to UK and overseas candidates. Funding covers:
• A monthly stipend for accommodation and living costs, based on UKRI rates (currently £17,668 pa for 2022/23, updated annually)
• Fees (home rate tuition fees and/or fee waiver for overseas fees, where applicable)
• Research and training costs
For further information before applying please check full funding and eligibility information:


1. J Deng, G Assandri, P Chauhan, R Futahashi, A Galimberti, B Hansson, LT Lancaster, Y Takahashi, EI Svensson, A Duplouy, BMC Ecology and Evolution 21 (181)
2. RY Dudaniec, CJ Yong, LT Lancaster, EI Svensson, B Hansson, Molecular Ecology 27 (11), 2576-2593
3. Roger T. Koide, Microbial Ecology (2022)

Where will I study?