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Understanding how adaptive evolution shapes microbial community functioning in a changing environment

Project Description

One of the main motivations for better understanding microbial communities is to manage ecosystem functioning. When conditions change, for example through climate change or intensive agricultural practices, microbial adaptive responses will drive ecological and evolutionary changes in the soil microbiome. Crucially, these changes often result in a loss of diversity and compositional shifts towards stress-resistant species, which may come at the cost of efficient ecosystem functioning.

You will directly test how adaptive evolution in the soil microbiome in response to environmental stressors (e.g. agricultural stressors and climate change) can alter different aspects of microbial ecosystem functioning, including respiration rate, protecting plants from pathogens and the maintenance of diverse plant communities. You will identify key taxa and/or functional traits in soil communities that are lost in stress-evolved communities - but crucial for ecosystem functioning, with the goal of informing novel probiotic approaches to maintaining soil health.

You 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 microbial cultivation techniques, sampling natural microbial communities, molecular biology, metagenomics and transcriptomics. While existing skills in any of these areas would be helpful, the ability to drive a research project independently, strong inter-personal 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.

Funding Notes

Competitive funding of tuition fee, research costs and stipend (£15,009 tax-free, 2019-20) from the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership “Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment” (ACCE, View Website ). ACCE – a collaboration between the Universities of Liverpool, Sheffield,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 8th 2020. Interviews in or after the week commencing : 10th February 2020. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed for only one project from the ACCE partnership.


S. O’Brien*, E. Hesse*, A. Lujan, D. J. Hodgson, A. Gardner & A. Buckling. 2018. No effect of intraspecific relatedness on public goods cooperation in a complex community. Evolution 72: 1165-73.

S. O'Brien & A. Buckling. 2015. The Sociality of Bioremediation: Hijacking the social lives of microbial populations to clean up heavy metal contamination. EMBO Reports 16:1241–1245.

Zytynska, S.E. & Meyer, S.T. (2019) Effects of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes on the protective microbiome of insects - a review. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, 167, 2-13.

Goucher L, Bruce R, Cameron DD, Lenny Koh SC, Horton P. 2017 The environmental impact of fertilizer embodied in a wheat-to-bread supply chain. Nat. Plants (doi:10.1038/nplants.2017.12)

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