PhD Studentship: Pollinator-mediated floral evolution during range expansions

University of Sussex - Biology

A Ph.D. studentship (42 months) is available from September 2017 under the supervision of Dr Maria Castellanos, Evolution, Behaviour and Environment, School of Life Sciences.

Deadline: 13th January 2017 

The phylogeny of the flowering plants shows continual evolution of flower structures, colours and rewards over time. In contrast, field studies plant populations often show that natural selection on floral traits is weak and inconsistent under current conditions, suggesting little potential for evolution. This apparent contradiction between macro- and micro-evolutionary patterns is potentially explained by long periods of stasis interspersed by occasional periods when plants are exposed to new pollinators and rapid floral innovation is favoured. This thesis project will study how and to what extent rapid evolution of floral traits comes about. This question is relevant to understand plant evolution but also in the context of the current declines of many pollinators around the world, because it will assess how plants can cope with changed pollinator environments.

The project will use several plant species that have extended their ranges and are exposed to different pollinators in their new habitats. It will include a) a field component designed to compare the pollinators, phenotypes and natural selection estimates in native and invasive populations; b) a greenhouse component designed to establish the role of phenotypic plasticity in floral variation; and c) a molecular component designed to study the phylogeography of the focus plants to understand patterns of floral variation. The focal study plants will be Digitalis purpurea, Nicotiana glauca, and Fuchsia magellanica. There is variable amount of preliminary information for these species, so the student will benefit from ongoing collaborations but also help establish new study systems. Field work will involve trips to different parts of the world (UK, South America and Mediterranean Europe).

The application should include a CV, statement of interest and the names and contact information of two academic referees. The successful applicant will have a strong interest in plant evolutionary ecology; experience with molecular biology and/or field work will be a plus. A driving licence and availability and interest in performing field work in the UK and abroad are essential. Please contact Alice Caryer ( with any application queries.

On the application system use Programme of Study - PhD Biology.

Please make sure you include the project title and supervisor’s name with your statement of interest on the application form.

This School funded position, which covers fees and a stipend at standard RCUK rates, is open to Home/EU applicants who should hold or expect to obtain a first, or upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in relevant subject. Candidates for whom English is not their first language will require an IELTS score of 6.5 overall, with not less than 6.0 in any section.

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