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Unravelling the Joint Evolution of Dispersal and Mating Behaviours in Spatially-Structured Populations Using Experimental Evolution

Project Description

This project will use experimental evolution on the seed beetle model species, Callosobruchus maculatus, to study the joint eco-evolutionary dynamics of dispersal, mating system and inbreeding. We will test emerging theoretical predictions on how dispersal and mating system co-vary in space, how they jointly evolve, and the consequences for species’ responses to changing environments.

The ability of individuals to move (dispersal) to avoid the negative consequences of inbreeding (mating with self or relative), and the acquisition and choice of mates (mating system) are fundamental for species’ persistence. Dispersal and mating system determine how genes are transmitted across generations and in space, and genetic variation ultimately determines a species’ potential to adapt to new conditions. Additionally, although they have been studied largely separately, dispersal and mating system are tightly interconnected. Female multiple mating, in particular, is a component of the mating system that is now being shown to be widespread across organisms and to have far-reaching consequences for species evolution and potentially for species’ responses to environmental changes1. As with dispersal2, female multiple mating is thought to evolve to allow inbreeding avoidance3,4. However, we still do not know how these two fascinating behaviours affect each other’s evolution and feed back to the population inbreeding level, how environmental changes impact their evolution and what this means for species’ persistence.

We are developing theoretical predictions on how we should expect dispersal and female multiple mating to jointly evolve as a consequence of population structure and environmental changes, and to impact on species’ survival. With this project the student will start testing this theory in the laboratory using a model species for the study of mating system and dispersal, the seed beetle5,6. The student will create microcosms with multiple populations of beetles where we will be able to test for joint evolution of dispersal, female multiple mating and level of inbreeding in both static environments and under range expansion conditions. Using next generation sequencing approaches, the student will be able to assess genetic variants and frequency shifts putatively involved in the evolution of dispersal and polyandry. This project will therefore provide a necessary step change in experimental study of dispersal and mating system by fully accounting and testing for their interactions and eco-evolutionary feed-backs, and thus start making headway in understanding how these two behaviours might jointly evolve in real organisms.

This project offers the student the opportunity to gain training in experimental evolution, quantitative genetics and genomic analyses. Further, the student will join a group that is strong in eco-evolutionary modelling and will have the opportunity of receiving excellent training on theory development and modelling.
Candidates should have (or expected to achieve) a minimum of 2:1 Honours degree, ideally (but not required) an MSc in ecology, evolution or related, strong theoretical skills and passion and enthusiasm for developing experimental evolution studies.

Funding Notes

The PhD is funded 100% by The Royal Society and the funding has already been secured. The studentship covers
the registration fees (for UK/EU students), the student salary for 4 years, experimental costs and travel for training and
conference attendance for the student.


1. Holman, L., & Kokko, H. (2013). The consequences of polyandry for population viability, extinction risk and conservation. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 368: 20120053.
2. Guillaume, F., & Perrin, N. (2009). Inbreeding load, bet hedging, and the evolution of sex-biased dispersal. The American Naturalist, 173: 536–541.
3. Tregenza, T., & Wedell, N. (2002). Polyandrous females avoid costs of inbreeding. Nature, 415:71–73.
4. Cornell, S. J., & Tregenza, T. (2007). A new theory for the evolution of polyandry as a means of inbreeding avoidance. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 274:2873–2879.
5. Ochocki, B. M., & Miller, T. E. X. (2017). Rapid evolution of dispersal ability makes biological invasions faster and more variable. Nature Communications, 8:14315.
6. Power, D. J., & Holman, L. (2014). Polyandrous females found fitter populations. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 27:1948–1955.

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