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The function, morphology, and evolution of fused vertebrae in bony cartilaginous fishes

Faculty of Health and Life Science

About the Project

Specialized anatomy can help animals adapt to new or variable environments, and lead to increased biodiversity. But since most body parts carry out multiple functions, such specializations might actually limit other functions and constrain behaviour and ecology.

Groups of both bony and cartilaginous fishes have evolved specialized, fused vertebrae just behind the skull. In the bony fishes (carps and catfishes), these fused vertebrae contribute to sound transmission and hearing, while in the cartilaginous fishes (rays and chimaeroids), these fused vertebrae support fin rays. But it is unclear how the fusion of these vertebrae has impacted the other roles of the vertebral column, such as moving the head during feeding, and ultimately the ecology and diversity of these different groups of fishes.

This project will test the hypothesis that these fused vertebrae form rigid structures that limit motion between the head and body and constrain diet and feeding ecology in both groups of fishes. It will use visual and computational methods—including X-ray videos, 3D modelling and animation, and mechanical testing—to explore the relationships between the shape, mobility, and ecological function of these vertebral structures. You will also have the opportunity to participate in research and engagement activities and training at Sea Life Aquarium.

We are looking for a curious, creative student who enjoys interdisciplinary problem-solving, and can be a reliable, supportive team member. A background in anatomy/physiology, biomechanics, or zoology, and strong experimental and visualization skills would be desirable, but project specifics can be adjusted to student strengths and training will be provided. The student will be based with the primary supervisor Dr. Ariel Camp and co-supervisor Prof. Nathan Jeffery at the University of Liverpool, with Co-supervision from Dr. Zerina Johanson at the Natural History Museum London and Mr. James Robson at Sea Life Aquarium.


Notes and how to apply are available here:

Funding Notes

NERC ACCE DTP in Ecology and Evolution, programme starts October 2021.

UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:
• Stipend (2020/21 UKRI rate £15,285)
• Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2020/21 rate £4,407)
• Research support and training grant (RTSG)

Note - UKRI funding only covers UK fees (£4,407 at 2020/2021 rate). A limited number of international fee bursaries will be awarded on a competitive basis. However, if selected International and EU fee rate candidates may need to cover the remaining amount of tuition fees by securing additional funding. International fees for 2020/21 entry were £23,650 per annum.

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