About the Project
This PhD will investigate the relative impact of environmental and genetic factors on senescence using the model Seychelles warbler system. Seychelles warblers live in a highly variable environment and there is considerable variable in senescence patterns between individuals. You will have access to the exceptional Seychelles warbler dataset, which contains complete life-histories of all individuals in the Cousin island study population over 11 generations and >20 years. With its uncompromised fitness estimates, detailed environmental data and well understood kin selection effects this dataset provides a unique and powerful resource for investigating individual variation in senescence. You will also gain skills in fieldwork, genomics, quantitative genetics and statistics. For example, path analysis will be used to determine the relationships between environmental and genetic effects on the senescence of multiple traits, while genomic data will be used to infer inbreeding and determine consequences for senescence. Molecular, statistical and field skills are an advantage, but training will be provided - you just need a passion for ecology and evolutionary biology research! You will benefit from working with all members of the Seychelles Warbler Project (http://seychelles-warbler-project.group.shef.ac.uk) and a vibrant academic environment at the University of Leeds, including training programs through LeedsOmics (http://www.leedsomics.org).
The successful student will work with leading researchers at the Universities of Leeds, East Anglia, Sheffield and Groningen to investigate individual variation in senescence. You will address the following fundamental questions in evolutionary biology:
1. Within individuals is the senescence of morphological, immunological, physiological and reproductive traits synchronized, and is there individual variation in these patterns?
2. Do individuals raised in good early-life conditions senesce later or slower than those born in poor conditions?
3. Does inbreeding affect the senescence of individuals?
4. What is the relative impact of genetic and environmental effects on senescence?
This will improve our understanding of how and why some individuals live longer, healthier lives, and provide important insights into ways of mitigating senescence.
Applicants must hold at least a 2.1 Honours or Masters degree in a relevant subject, and have a keen interest in molecular ecology and life-history evolution. Previous experience of bird ringing, behavioural observations, fieldwork in harsh environments, molecular techniques, Access databases and statistics would be beneficial; however, excellent training will be provided (e.g. www.fbs.leeds.ac.uk/postgraduate/professionaldev.php). You will be required to conduct fieldwork for a minimum of three seasons (3 months per season).
You will be supervised by Dr Hannah Dugdale and Dr Alex Sparks (Leeds) and Prof David S Richardson (East Anglia) and collaborate with Profs Terry Burke (Sheffield) and Jan Komdeur (Groningen).
Bebbington K, Spurgin LG, Fairfield EA, Dugdale HL, Komdeur J, Burke T & Richardson DS. 2016. Telomere length reveals cumulative individual and transgenerational inbreeding effects in a passerine bird. Molecular Ecology, 25, 2949-2960
Edwards HA, Burke T, Dugdale HL (2017) Repeatable and heritable behavioural variation in a wild cooperative breeder. Behavioral Ecology, 28, 668–676
Hammers M, Kingma SA, Bebbington K, van de Crommenacker J, Spurgin LG, Richardson DS, Burke T, Dugdale HL, Komdeur J (2015) Senescence in the wild: Insight from a long-term study on Seychelles warblers. Experimental Gerontology, 71, 69–79 www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0531556515300425
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