PhD Studentship: Genomic signatures of adaptation in an island bird (SPURGIN_UBIO17EE) - CASE studentship with IPNA-CSIC

University of East Anglia - School of Biological Sciences

School of: Biological Sciences

Start Date: October 2017

Supervisor: Dr Lewis Spurgin

Project description:  


To use cutting edge genomic tools in combination with ecological fieldwork to enhance understanding of evolutionary adaptation in wild animals.


Genomic tools are revolutionizing our understanding of Darwinian natural selection. Using genomic data, it is now possible to not only identify the genes under natural selection, but also their function and the ecological factors that drive selection.

Some of the best examples of natural selection come from island bird species. Moreover, many island birds are becoming endangered due to habitat degradation and climate change, so understanding their ecology and evolution is of paramount conservation concern.


The student will carry out population sampling, ecological surveying and analysis of genomic data from 13 Island populations of Berthelot’s pipit.  Our previous work has shown that these populations differ markedly in their ecology (particularly in parasites and altitude), and that natural selection and “chance” interact to shape patterns of genetic variation. We have recently generated sequence data from ~300 key functional genes and ~2000 non-coding regions (using sequence capture and RAD-seq, respectively) from the populations. The student will use this data to identify:

  1. Which genes are under natural selection among island populations?
  2. What are the biological processes under natural selection?
  3. How do parasites and altitude drive natural selection?

Research Environment and Training

This project will be supervised by Dr Lewis Spurgin and Prof David Richardson at the University of East Anglia, and Dr Brent Emerson at IPNA-CSIC. The student will form part of an inclusive and dynamic research community at UEA. IPNA-CSIC is a successful research institute in Tenerife and a case partner to the project. The student will spend at least 3 months at IPNA-CSIC, directly interacting with Canarian researchers.

The student will receive training in ecological fieldwork, molecular genetics, bioinformatics and advanced data analysis. They will also receive wide-ranging training from NERC and UEA to increase scientific skills and enhance employability.

Person specification:

 - Degree in biology, zoology or related subject

-  Field work and analytical skills desired (but training will be given)

-  Willingness to learn programming languages

Funding notes: This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with twenty other research partners.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 14/15 February 2017.

Successful candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship. In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award. In 2016/17, the stipend was £14,296.

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