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QUADRAT DTP: The role of sexual selection in facilitating rapid adaptation to climate change

Project Description

Climate change is arguably the most significant threat to biodiversity in the 21st century. Animal populations are experiencing a period of unprecedented environmental change, leading to higher extinction rates. Understanding what affects the capacity of populations to respond and adapt to climate change is now one of the most important issues in ecology and evolutionary biology.

Recent studies have shown that strong sexual selection can increase population resilience and reduce the risk of extinction. Sexual selection may therefore improve a population’s ability to cope with climate change. Yet, changes in temperature may also alter the strength or direction of sexual selection, leading to complex interactions and feedback loops between climate change and sexual selection.

To address this gap in our knowledge, this PhD project will investigate how climate change can influence sexual selection and how sexual selection can in turn influence a population’s capacity to adapt to a warming world. For example, do changes in temperature lead to changes in male-male competition or female mate choice? What are the consequences of such behavioural changes for offspring fitness? How does temperature affect sperm competition?

Model system: This PhD project will use the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides as a model system. Burying beetles are easy to keep in the laboratory and are highly amenable to experimental manipulation. They also have a short generation time and a suite of fascinating reproductive behaviours. This species breeds on carcasses of small vertebrates, and there is fierce intrasexual competition to secure a carcass for breeding. Females can store sperm and may mate with multiple males, so there is scope for sperm competition. Burying beetles also exhibit elaborate biparental care, which includes feeding and defending the offspring.

Training: The PhD student will gain valuable skills and experience with multi-generational lab experiments, fieldwork, behavioural observations, cutting-edge molecular biology techniques, statistical and theoretical modelling, and animal husbandry. There will also be a focus on transferrable skills, such as project management, written communication, and oral communication. Lastly, this project includes opportunities for collaborations with Lund University and Stockholm University, which would involve research visits to Sweden during the course of the PhD.

Timeline: The project will mainly involve multi-generational laboratory experiments with additional opportunities for fieldwork and theoretical modelling depending on the student’s interests.
Year 1: Research training, design and plan experiments, start experimental work
Year 2: Continue experimental work, data analysis
Year 3: Complete experimental and theoretical work, data analysis, dissertation writing
Year 4: Dissertation writing


Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2.2 Honours degree may be considered providing they have a Distinction at Master’s level.


• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences
• State name of the lead supervisor as ‘Name of Proposed Supervisor’ on application
• State ‘QUADRAT DTP’ as Intended Source of Funding
• Select the ‘Visit Website’ to apply now

Funding Notes

This project is funded by the NERC QUADRAT-DTP and is available to UK/EU nationals who meet the UKRI eligibility criteria. Please visit View Website for more information.

The studentship provides funding for tuition fees, stipend and a research training and support grant subject to eligibility


Lumley AJ, Michalczyk Ł, Kitson JJ, Spurgin LG, Morrison CA, Godwin JL, Dickinson ME, Martin OY, Emerson BC, Chapman T, Gage MJ (2015) Sexual selection protects against extinction. Nature 522:470.

Price TA, Hurst GD, Wedell N (2010) Polyandry prevents extinction. Current Biology 20:471-5.

How good is research at Aberdeen University in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 89.42

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

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