The core aim of this project is to develop a spatially-explicit theory of sexual selection in order to understand patterns of sexual selection in space, and whether sexual selection promotes or hinders species’ responses to environmental changes.
Sexual selection is a powerful process that is responsible for some of the most spectacular evolutionary adaptations on Earth. Since Darwin, sexual selection has inspired substantial theoretical and empirical research to understand how it operates and what the consequences are for the evolution of species’ traits, species’ mating system and for speciation1. However, we still know very little about how sexual selection will affect species’ responses to ongoing rapid environmental changes3. Whether sexual selection promotes or hinders environmental adaptation is still much debated, with mixed evidence coming from laboratory experiments2,3. The debate mainly revolves around four main issues: whether or not sexual selection can be more efficient than natural selection alone in purging deleterious mutations; on the maintenance of additive genetic variance under sexual selection; on the role of condition-dependent sexual traits in promoting adaptation and ultimately speciation1; and, importantly, on whether sexual and natural selection align in determining adaptation to novel environments. Yet, a spatially-explicit theory that takes into account the environmental changes in question is lacking.
There is growing empirical evidence that the strength and direction of sexual selection can vary in space between local populations, across species’ ranges, and along environmental gradients4. Yet, apart from very few initial studies5, sexual selection theory remains spatially-implicit and disjoint from ecological dynamics. We therefore completely lack predictions on how sexual selection is affected by spatial processes, and hence what spatial patterns of sexual selection we should expect to observe, limiting our capacity to explain the heterogeneity of adaptations that we observe in nature. This knowledge gap becomes particularly critical now that the environment is changing fast and specific spatial processes such as habitat fragmentation and range expansions and shifting are affecting most species.
This project aims at bridging this gap in sexual selection theory by taking a mechanistic, spatially- and genetically-explicit modelling approach to understand how sexual selection operates in space, and to generate testable predictions on spatial patterns of sexual selection and on their consequences for species’ adaptation to changing environments. This project is deliberately broad, leaving plenty of scope for the student to develop their own line of research. Exciting questions include: (1) how does sexual selection vary in space? (2) What is the effect of sexual selection on mutation load in spatially-structured populations? (3) How does sexual selection change during species’ range expansion / shifting? (4) Does sexual selection, its dynamics and spatial structure promote, hinder or have no effect on species’ range expansions and shifts, and thus on species’ persistence?
The student will work closely with the PI and receive excellent training in eco-evolutionary genetically-explicit modelling, benefit from the presence of strong groups in the department working on related topics with a spatially- and genetically-explicit theoretical and modelling approach, and benefit from being embedded in a strong network of international collaborations.
Please apply for admission to the ’Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Science’ to ensure that your application is passed to the correct School for processing.
Please provide a copy of the degree certificate and transcript for each previous degree undertaken, a copy of your English language proficiency certificate (if relevant), and contact details of two referees who can comment on your previous academic performance (at least one should be from your current degree programme). References will be requested if you are selected for interview. Incomplete applications will not be considered.
Full funding is available to UK/EU candidates only. Overseas candidates can apply for this studentship but will have to find additional funding to cover the difference between overseas and home fees (approximately £13,805 per annum).
Candidate should have (or expected to achieve) a minimum of 2:1 Honours degree in a relevant subject, ideally (but not required) an MSc in ecology, evolution or related, strong quantitative skills and passion and enthusiasm for learning and developing evolutionary theory. The application will be subject to approval from The Royal Society.
1. Servedio M. R., Boughman J. W., 2017 The Role of Sexual Selection in Local Adaptation and Speciation. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst. 48: 85–109.
2. Candolin U., Heuschele J., 2008 Is sexual selection beneficial during adaptation to environmental change? Trends Ecol. Evol. 23: 446–452.
3. Whitlock M. C., Agrawal A. F., 2009 Purging the genome with sexual selection: reducing mutation load through selection on males. Evolution 63: 569–82.
4. Miller C. W., Svensson E. I., 2014 Sexual Selection in Complex Environments. Annu. Rev. Entomol. 59: 427–445.
5. Connallon T., 2015 The geography of sex-specific selection, local adaptation, and sexual dimorphism. Evolution 69: 2333–2344.