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The role of interspecific interactions in shaping adaptive evolution in soil microbial communities

Project Description

Understanding how microbial communities evolve and function is regarded as one of today’s greatest challenges. Microbial communities are highly diverse and complex, yet this same complexity makes it extremely challenging to understand how a community might respond and adapt to change. Experiments using simple 2-species communities have shown that species interactions can affect evolutionary responses to the abiotic environment, yet we have little idea about how selection operates within communities in more realistic, natural settings.

In this project, you will test how species interactions in complex microbial communities shape evolutionary responses to environmental change, focusing on agriculturally-relevant soil microbial communities. Soil microbial communities are key drivers of agricultural processes such as nitrogen provisioning, protecting crops from pathogens and heavy metal bioremediation. Hence, understanding how these communities adapt to environmental change is vital. You will perform experimental evolution in real-time with natural microbial soil communities and test the effects of various agricultural stressors such as pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics on community structure and function.

This project lies at the interface of evolutionary biology, community ecology, microbiology and environmental sciences. The ideal student for this project will be one who wishes to apply their evolution/ecology background to gain novel insights into how microbial communities respond and adapt to change.

The student will be embedded within a supportive and vibrant research community at the Institute of Integrative Biology at the University of Liverpool, and gain skills in experimental evolution, microbial cultivation techniques, sampling natural microbial communities, molecular biology and metagenomics. While existing skills in any of these areas would be
helpful, the ability to drive a research project independently, strong interpersonal skills, motivation and curiosity are essential.

PhD students are strongly encouraged to participate in the range of professional development activities offered by the University of Liverpool, and training will be provided in research skills such as scientific writing, critical thinking, reviewing literature, presentation skills and statistical analysis.

Applicants should generally have an upper second or first class degree in biological or life sciences, evolutionary biology, ecology, zoology, microbiology, environmental sciences or any other relevant fields.

Please contact me by email (including your C.V.) if you have any questions about your suitability for this position.

Funding Notes

Competitive funding of tuition fee, research costs and stipend (£14,777 tax-free, 2018-19) from the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership ACCE, View Website. ACCE – a collaboration between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, and York – is the only dedicated ecology/evolution/conservation Doctoral Training Partnership in the UK.

Applications (CV, letter of application, 2 referees) by email to , deadline: January 9 2019. Interviews in or after the week commencing: 11th February 2019. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed for only one project from the ACCE partnership.

This project is also available to self-funded students. A fees bursary may be available.


E. Hesse, S. O’Brien, F. Bayer, E. van Veen, D. Hodgson & A. Buckling. 2018. Ecological selection of siderophore-producing microbial
taxa in response to heavy metal contamination. Ecology letters 21:117-27.

S. O’Brien, E. Hesse, A. Luján, D. Hodgson, A. Gardner & A. Buckling. 2018. No effect of intraspecific relatedness on the evolution of a public good in a complex community. Evolution 72:1165-73.

T. Bell & J.M. Tylianakis. 2016. Microbes in the anthropocene: Spillover of agriculturally selected bacteria and their impact on natural
ecosystems. Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 283: 20160896.

T.G. Barraclough. 2015. How Do Species Interactions Affect Evolutionary Dynamics Across Whole Communities? Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst. 46:25-48.

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