2 Funded PhDs on Seychelles warblers

1) Conservation genomics of the Seychelles warbler

Lead supervisor: Prof Terry Burke, Sheffield.
Co-supervisors: Prof Steve Paterson, Liverpool; Dr Hannah Dugdale, Leeds

In the 1960s, the Seychelles warbler was reduced to a single population of <30 birds on Cousin Island. The population later recovered ten-fold due to habitat restoration and has since increased through translocations to four other islands. The global population was however historically vastly larger and an intensive 20-year study of the life history of the entire Cousin population has recorded negative effects of inbreeding on fitness. As the bottleneck in this species was recent and the contemporary population size remains historically small, we hypothesize that genetic variation will continue to be eroded by inbreeding. This project will conduct one of the first conservation genomic analyses, assessing regions of the Seychelles warbler genome that contribute to inbreeding effects. It will model the population size required to maintain extant genomic diversity and so inform future management plans of this and other species of conservation concern. Applicants should have a keen interest in learning field and laboratory skills, including next generation sequencing techniques. They will be trained in population bioinformatics, statistics, conservation genetics, and evolutionary theory. Along with the standard application, applicants should submit a one-page PhD proposal. This PhD project is part of the NERC funded Doctoral Training Partnership “ACCE” (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment). This is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, York and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. For more information, visit: https://acce.shef.ac.uk/ Application: via http://www.shef.ac.uk/postgraduate/research/apply/applying Deadline: Monday, January 11, 2016 2) Offspring or survival: Antagonistic effects and the maintenance of genetic variation in an isolated island population of Seychelles warblers

Lead supervisor: Dr Richardson, University of East Anglia.
Co-supervisors: Dr Hannah Dugdale, Leeds; Prof Terry Burke, Sheffield; Prof Jan Komdeur, Groningen

This project will investigate how different mechanisms – including antagonistic effects on survival and reproduction – interact to maintain genetic variation within a population of the Seychelles warbler.

Genetic variation provides the building blocks for evolution and underpins biodiversity. It is key to the adaptive potential of populations, affecting their probability of extinction. How genetic variation is maintained in natural populations, especially small ones, is therefore a fundamental question in evolutionary and conservation biology. Nowhere is diversity more important than at immune genes, which underpin the ability of individuals and populations to combat pathogens. However we still do not understand how different mechanisms interact to maintain such diversity within natural populations. Only by using modern molecular tools in conjunction with detailed information on individual fitness within populations will we resolve these issues.

Our long-term study of an island population of Seychelles warblers provides an excellent system in which to do this. We have shown that major histocompatibility complex (MHC) variation has been maintained in this bottlenecked species through a combination of natural and sexual selection. Moreover, a single MHC allele can provide individuals with a five-fold greater life expectancy but, intriguingly, the frequency of this allele in the population has not increased. These contradictory results suggest the presence of antagonist effects that counterbalance the positive effect of this allele on survival by negative effects on reproduction.

Now we need a researcher to test the interacting effects of MHC variation on survival and reproduction, and the role of pathogens, using the amazing dataset available for the Seychelles warbler.

This interdisciplinary project will develop an exceptional range of skills in the successful candidate including fieldwork techniques, molecular tools, bioinformatics and analytical expertise.

This project has funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with twenty other research partners. To apply: http://www.enveast.ac.uk/how-to-apply

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