Sex and Reproduction During the Evolution of Apes

   Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

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  Dr Chris Organ  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project


Reproduction is the prime imperative for species and even helps define life itself. For humans, reproductive biology, mating behaviours, and parenting overlap in profound and complex ways throughout our lives. However, evolutionary models for development and sexual selection are needed to understand how these traits arose. This project explores the evolutionary innovations driving reproduction in humans and other apes by developing these models within a fossil-rich comparative framework. It has three complementary themes: Theme 1: The Context of Adaptation and Diversity in Apes; Theme 2: How Reproduction and Development Shaped Human Evolution; and Theme 3: Sexual Selection is a Driving Evolutionary Force in Apes. You will help achieve the goals outlined in Theme 3, the objective of which is to detect and quantify sexual selection in hominoids. We hypothesise that intra-sexual selection (male-male competition) shaped canine tooth size as weapons in a heterogeneous evolutionary process in apes. You will collect and audit morphologic data from the literature and museum collections. Afterwards, you will help develop a new model to detect and quantify sexual selection across species. Along the way, you will learn about palaeoanthropology, phylogenetics, and data science.


Deep Time Biology Lab:


We are broadly interested in the macroevolutionary patterns and process of genome biology, physiology, functional morphology, and ecology in a wide range of animals. Computational evolutionary modelling allows us to combine data from extant species and fossils to understand how these systems evolve. With this approach we can now, in the post-genome era, tackle new questions about how genotypes and phenotypes evolved across deep time. Our research seizes this opportunity to study major evolutionary transformations across levels of biological organization, from genes and genomes to morphology and behaviour.


We are always looking for new team members with passion, grit, and an interest in smashing academic boundaries. You will have the chance to work on the grand unified theory of biology (evolution) and get training in a wide range of fields, including data science. We champion diversity and seek to be active allies by maintaining an inclusive and collaborative work environment.


School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading:

The University of Reading, located west of London, England, provides world-class research education programs. The University’s main Whiteknights Campus is set in 130 hectares of beautiful parkland, a 30-minute train ride to central London and 40 minutes from London Heathrow airport. 

Our School of Biological Sciences conducts high-impact research, tackling current global challenges faced by society and the planet. Our research ranges from understanding and improving human health and combating disease, through to understanding evolutionary processes and uncovering new ways to protect the natural world. In 2020, we moved into a stunning new ~£60 million Health & Life Sciences building. This state-of-the-art facility is purpose-built for science research and teaching. It houses the Cole Museum of Zoology, a café and social spaces.

In the School of Biological Sciences, you will be joining a vibrant community of ~180 PhD students representing ~40 nationalities. Our students publish in high-impact journals, present at international conferences, and organise a range of exciting outreach and public engagement activities.

During your PhD at the University of Reading, you will expand your research knowledge and skills, receiving supervision in one-to-one and small group sessions. You will have access to cutting-edge technology and learn the latest research techniques. We also provide dedicated training in important transferable skills that will support your career aspirations. If English is not your first language, the University's excellent International Study and Language Institute will help you develop your academic English skills.

The University of Reading is a welcoming community for people of all faiths and cultures. We are committed to a healthy work-life balance and will work to ensure that you are supported personally and academically. 


Applicants should have a good degree (minimum of a UK Upper Second (2:1) undergraduate degree or equivalent) in Biology, Anthropology, Data Science or a closely-related discipline. Applicants will also need to meet the University’s English Language requirements. We offer pre-sessional courses that can help with meeting these requirements.

How to apply:

Submit an application for a PhD in Biological

Sciences at


Further information:



Dr. Chris Organ, email:


Funding Notes

We welcome applications from self-funded students worldwide for this project.
If you are applying to an international funding scheme, we encourage you to get in contact as we may be able to support you in your application.


Organ, C. L., Z. Machanda, R. Wrangham, and C. Nunn. (2011). Phylogenetic rate shifts in chewing time during the evolution of Homo. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. 108 (35): 14555-14559.
Organ, C. L., L. N. Cooper, and T. L. Hieronymus. (2015). Macroevolutionary developmental fossils, and phylogenies. Developmental Dynamics. doi:10.1002/dvdy.24318.
Gardner, J., K. Surya, and C. L. Organ (2019). Early tetrapodomorph biogeography: controlling for fossil record bias in macroevolutionary analyses. Comptes Rendus Palevol. 18 (7): 693-908.
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