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The population genomics of New Zealand seabirds and developing DNA markers to resolve uncertainties of bycatch identification

Project Description

Seabird bycatch in long-line and trawl fisheries is a significant issue, particularly for albatrosses, shearwaters and the larger species of petrels. However, obtaining precise information about the species caught and how many, is often difficult because of taxonomic uncertainties, poor specimen condition, and the costs associated with transport and storage of samples. On a global scale, New Zealand has been identified as one of few seabird biodiversity hotspots and reducing the level of seabird mortality is considered a high priority. The overall goal of the project is to develop a robust DNA-based identification method and to assess the levels of genetic variation among and with species. The specific objectives would be to (1) produce a DNA sequencing catalogue and assess the performance of a DNA-based species/population assay under a variety of field circumstances, (2) investigate several taxonomic uncertainties, and (3) determine how the levels of genetic variation and structure in contemporary populations have changed by incorporating ancient DNA retrieved from archaeological and subfossil samples, and historical museum skins. The latter will enable an assessment of whether DNA markers can be used to trace specimens to their natal population and to establish whether there has been a loss of genetic diversity over time. This project will use a combination of mitochondrial DNA and single-nucleotide polymorphisms obtained from genome-wide DNA sequencing. Potential study species include: Salvin’s albatross (Thalassarche salvini), flesh-footed shearwater (Puffinus carneipes), southern Buller’s albatross (Thalassarche bulleri bulleri), Westland petrel (Procellaria westlandica), Gibson’s albatross (Diomedea antipodensis gibsoni), New Zealand white-capped albatross (Thalassarche cauta steadi), and Chatham Island albatross (Thalassarche eremita).

The ideal candidate will have an interest in seabirds and a strong background in population genetics and/or molecular taxonomy. Computational skills and prior experience with ancient DNA would be desirable. The project is based at Victoria University of Wellington ( in New Zealand ( Ancient DNA research will be conducted at the Otago Palaeogenetics Laboratory in the Department of Zoology at the University of Otago. This project is supported by the New Zealand government Department of Conservation ( The success candidate will be expected to apply for and obtain a Victoria University of Wellington doctoral scholarship (

Supervisory team:
Associate Professor Peter Ritchie (Victoria University of Wellington)
Dr Nic Rawlence (University of Otago)
Dr Igor Debski (Department of Conservation)

Applications should include a cover letter describing why you believe you are a good fit for this position, a CV (including your academic transcript), and the names of two academic referees.

Short-listed applicants will be contacted and required to participate in a Skype interview.

Funding Notes

Candidates must meet the entry requirements for the doctoral programme at Victoria University of Wellington (View Website)

The success candidate will be expected to apply for and obtain a Victoria University of Wellington doctoral scholarship (View Website).

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