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The genetic basis of female fertility in the zebra finch


Project Description

Understanding variation in reproductive success is a fundamental goal of evolutionary biology, with broad implications for fields such as conservation and reproductive medicine. Females typically invest more in reproduction than males, and yet we know relatively little about how and why female fertility varies across individuals. This PhD will use breeding data compiled over 30 years from a captive population of zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), a library of complementary DNA samples, and cutting-edge genomics tools, to investigate the genetic basis of female fertility traits. Key goals of the project are to:

(1) Quantify individual repeatability of female fertility across matings with different males.
(2) Determine the heritability of female fertility traits using quantitative genetic approaches.
(3) Investigate the potential for sexual conflict between male and female fertility-related traits.

We are looking for an enthusiastic and motivated PhD student, with interest in evolutionary biology, molecular ecology, and quantitative genetics. The project will suit a student with strong analytical skills, who enjoys lab and computer-based work. The student will be expected to carry out lab work to extract and prepare DNA for genotyping, for which training will be provided. Experience in or willingness to gain expertise in bioinformatics, R programming, and statistics is highly desirable. The successful candidate will join the large Evolution and Behaviour research group in the University of Sheffield’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, benefiting from access to state-of-the-art NERC Biomolecular Analysis facilities. They will gain expertise in avian reproductive biology, molecular and quantitative genetics techniques, and computer-based modelling. The lead supervisor Dr Nicola Hemmings is a behavioural ecologist with expertise in avian reproduction, and the co-supervisor Professor Jon Slate is an evolutionary biologist with considerable knowledge of avian genomics. Further information on the research groups and supervisors can be found via the following links:

Funding Notes

Fully funded studentships cover: (i) a stipend at the UKRI rate (at least £14,777 per annum for 2019-2020), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees. Studentship(s) are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements.
This PhD project is part of the NERC funded Doctoral Training Partnership “ACCE” (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment View Website. ACCE is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, York, CEH, and NHM.
Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview to take place at the University of Sheffield the w/c 11th February 2019.

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