Fully funded SUPER DTP PhD position: An evo-devo approach to invasive biology and resilience to climate change

Deadline for application = Monday 10th May 2021
>> The Evo-Devo Approach

Predicting how species will fare with climate change and understanding invasive biology to aid remediation and are themes intrinsically coupled to evolutionary and developmental processes. In order to predict adaptation potential or ‘evolvability’ the genetic control of a trait, which is developmentally programmed, and its natural variation within and between closely related species must be understood [1,2]. By studying evolutionary and developmental biology together, and comparing results between closely related species, the evo-devo field provides rich examples of generating such understanding. Access to new methods previously constrained to ‘model’ systems, that the evo-devo field is now pioneering in ‘non-model’ groups, holds great promise for environmental research.

>> The System

Crepidula fornicata is invasive to the UK, it is damaging fisheries, habitats and biodiversity and is predicted to have a poleward shift in distribution, into Scottish waters, with oceanic warming. It is also a marine calcifier inhabiting coastal regions vulnerable to climatic changes such as warming and ocean acidification (OA). Recent OA experiments have shown C. fornicata are surprisingly resilient to severely acidified conditions [3]. These findings, in combination with the history of embryological study in this species, makes it an ideal system to probe questions of resilience and adaptation to climate change.

>> The Questions

This studentship will take the powerful evo-devo approach and apply it to questions of major environmental significance. You will compare shell development in C. fornicata to three closely related species within the genus Crepidula to address the following questions:

1.) What developmental mechanisms make C. fornicata invasive compared to its most closely related non-invasive relatives?

2.) What developmental mechanisms regulate the shell traits (strength, microstructures and thickness) that give C. fornicata superior resilience to ocean acidification and climate change compared to its most closely related relatives?

>> The Places

You will be based in the Sleight Lab at the University of Aberdeen, a supportive and dynamic environment where curiosity is encouraged and nurtured. In the Sleight Lab you will be part of a passionate team working with world-leading experts whilst having the mountains and ocean on your doorstep. You will also spend time working with your supervisor at the Institute of Aquaculture at the University of Stirling.

>>The Student (you!)

You will be a motivated and genuinely curious student seeking to use evolutionary and developmental biology to tackle problems of global scale – invasive biology and responses to climate change.

Essential skills: you will have a strong degree in a relevant field with particular enthusiasm for evolutionary biology and/or developmental biology. You will have experience conducting independent research and evidence of skills in data analysis.

Desirable skills: experience with marine invertebrate culture, molecular biology (nucleic acid extractions, cloning, PCR, gels etc), immunohistochemistry, bioinformatics and R, field collections and embryology are all desirable, but full training will be provided.

>> The Training and Opportunities

You will receive rigorous training in bioinformatics, histology, molecular biology and advanced imaging. You will have the opportunity to conduct field work to collect specimens and you will be encouraged and supported to apply for international summer schools for advanced training (such as the world-famous Embryology Course at the Marine Biology Laboratory in Woods Hole), and attend international conferences to present your research. You will publish your findings in leading research journals and graduate with a track-record apt for a career in academia, industry or wider fields.

>> Funding Eligibility and Application Process

The SUPER DTP has filled its international quota for recruitment for this round, I therefore regret that this project is only available to home (UK) students. Funding will cover UK tuition fees/stipend/research & training support grant only. To be classed as a Home student, you must meet the following criteria:

Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
Have settled status, or
Have presettled status (meeting residency requirement), or
Have indefinite leave to remain or enter

For more information on home student status click here.

To apply:
Click here to open the University of Aberdeen’s application portal
-Apply for ‘PhD in Marine Biology’
-Enter the name of the lead supervisor when prompted (Dr Victoria Sleight)
-No proposal is required, please follow instructions on the portal
-Please ensure you submit all necessary higher education documents
-For an informal chat and more information about the position please contact me via email, victoria.sleight [at]
Click here for more information on the University of Aberdeen’s application process
>> References

[1.] Campbell et al. (2017) Conservation evo-devo: preserving biodiversity by understanding its origins. Trends Ecol Evol.
[2.] Simpson. (2002) Evolution of development in closely related species of flies and worms. Nat Rev Genet.
[3.] Kriefall et al. (2018) Resilience of Crepidula fornicata larvae in the face of severe coastal acidification. Front Mar Sci.