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University of Portsmouth Featured PhD Programmes
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The Genomic Basis of Life History in a Natural Population

Department of Animal and Plant Sciences

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Prof T A Burke , Prof J Slate No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Traits that have more influence on an individual’s fitness are known to be under stronger selection and to have lower heritabilities. However, we as yet have a limited understanding of the evolution of these traits, such as clutch size and provisioning behaviour. This is especially so because these traits interact with a changing or oscillating environment. Our 20-year study of every individual in an isolated natural population of house sparrows (Passer domesticus) on Lundy Island provides the opportunity to investigate both the genetic basis of life-history characteristics, and the natural and sexual selection acting upon them.

The PhD student will generate and analyse low-coverage genomes for about 1,000 sparrows that have been recruited into the adult population and for which we have comprehensive life-history data. We have already generated a high-quality reference genome for this species. The life-history data include detailed information on reproduction (numbers, size and timing of all clutches), parental care (provisioning effort by each individual to each clutch), mating behaviour (parentage of all offspring, mate choice, divorce and extrapair paternity), longevity and morphology. Genetic and environmental influences can be disentangled because about half of all the broods have been cross-fostered. The student will use the combined genomic dataset to understand the genetic basis of these life-history traits using the tools of quantitative genetics and genomic prediction.

The project will produce important results on the genetics of life history (such as few or many genes), and on the heritabilities of these traits. It will address the major evolutionary question of what maintains genetic variation by testing for direct effects of molecular genetic variation on survival and reproduction under varying environmental conditions. It will also test for negative genetic correlations that might constrain evolution, and so help to explain the persistence of genetic variation.

The student should be enthusiastic about studying evolutionary genetics and behavioural ecology. The Molecular Ecology Laboratory and the Department of Animal & Plant Sciences provide an exceptional intellectual and laboratory environment to support this project. The appointee will trained in ornithological fieldwork, population genomics, and data analysis and bioinformatics.

Science Graduate School
As a PhD student in one of the science departments at the University of Sheffield, you’ll be part of the Science Graduate School. You’ll get access to training opportunities designed to support your career development by helping you gain professional skills that are essential in all areas of science. You’ll be able to learn how to recognise good research and research behaviour, improve your communication abilities and experience the breadth of technologies that are used in academia, industry and many related careers. Visit to learn more.

Funding Notes

Fully funded studentships cover: (i) a stipend at the UKRI rate (£15,009 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 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 in the w/c 10th February 2020.
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