UK: PhD Studentship in Sexual Selection and Local Adaptation to the Environment at University of Exeter

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Studentships will be awarded on the basis of merit and will commence in September 2014. For eligible students the award will cover UK/EU tuition fees and an annual stipend (in 2013/14 this was £13,726 for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students) for three and a half years.

Supervisors:

Prof. Tom Tregenza, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter
Prof. Daniel Robert, School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol
Dr Jon Bridle, School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol

Project description:  The role of sexual selection in adaptation to the environment is poorly understood. A particular focus of current theory is that, contrary to the traditional view, sexual selection may actually accelerate adaptation. If males that are well adapted to the environment are more attractive to females, then genes that contribute to his adaptation will proliferate both through natural and sexual selection. The student will test this key hypothesis through an interdisciplinary combination of evolutionary ecological, and biophysical experiments to provide insights into the fundamental question of why sexual reproduction is so prevalent.

The student will use field crickets (Gryllus campestris) as a model system to test the hypothesis that male acoustic signals (a prominent display trait of crickets and numerous other animals) provide females with information about well adapted to their local environment those particular males are. The major inter-disciplinary leap of this project will be the combination of Evolutionary Ecology (Tregenza and Bridle) and Bionanoscience (Robert). We have pilot data showing that diet influences male condition, such that males fed a high quality diet resemble males that are well adapted to the environment (and hence able to secure resources). The student will begin with laboratory studies using manipulations of diet and quantification of song traits. They will then determine whether females prefer males that are in good condition using standard playback response protocols. Direct measurements of the mechanical responses of the ears of female crickets will be used to examine the extent to which females can differentiate among males and individual differences in female sensitivity to male calls, allowing us to examine variation in receivers as well as in signallers.

The student will collect crickets from sites we have identified in Northern Spain from >1000m (cold climate) and <200m (warm) areas and carry out reciprocal transplants to enclosures in both types of site. The relative attractiveness of offspring from adults transplanted within their native climate zone will be compared with those transplanted between zones. This will allow a test of the prediction that local adaptation to climate means that females will prefer songs from males that are well adapted to the environment in which they have been raised. Physical measurements of the responses of female ears to sounds will allow us to examine genetic and environmental sources of variation in the mechanical responses of female ears to sound.

The closing date for applications is midnight Friday 10 January 2014. Interviews are expected to take place in February.

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