Evolutionary genomics of the thriving red fox


Evolutionary genomics of the thriving red fox


Project Description


Dr Anders Bergström, University of East Anglia – Contact me

Professor David S Richardson, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia

Dr Mark McMullan, Earlham Institute

Scientific background

Population genomics can reveal the evolutionary processes underlying the history and diversity of a species. Many studies have been done on endangered and extinct species, but little attention has been given to the flip side of the coin: thriving species. To understand what sets successful species apart from less successful ones, we need to study the full spectrum of evolutionary trajectories.

One species that is doing exceptionally well is the red fox (Vulpes vulpes). It is the land mammal with the largest natural distribution and occupies a wide range of habitats, from the deserts of Arabia to the tundra of the North American arctic, and even thrives in urban environments.

Research methodology

This project will use whole-genome sequencing of previously collected red fox DNA samples from across the globe, and perform population genetics analyses to address questions on their diversity and evolutionary history, including:

– Is the success of the fox driven by genetic adaptation—do the genomes of foxes living in different environments display evidence of local adaptation, including through local gene flow from other fox species?

– What is the time depth of genetic diversification in the species—did foxes in different parts of the world diverge genetically a long time ago, or is current diversity the result of recent expansion?

– What factors best explain the shape of genetic relationships—Ice Age climate changes, mountains, deserts, human societies, deliberate human translocation?


The student will join the vibrant Organisms and Environment theme at UEA. They will gain broad skills in genomics, bioinformatics, population genetic theory and cutting-edge analyses of genetic structure, demographic histories, and natural selection. There are also prospects for ancient DNA analyses, comparisons to data from other species (e.g. grey wolf), and integration of environmental and climate data. They will take part in journal clubs and seminars, present at local and international conferences, interact with multidisciplinary collaborators and develop skills in critical thinking, scientific writing and communication.

Person specification

The ideal candidate will have a background in biology (e.g. genetics, molecular biology, zoology, ecology, bioinformatics), and strong interests in evolution, genomics and biodiversity.


  • 1 Gray wolf genomic history reveals a dual ancestry of dogs. Bergström et al., Nature 2022
  • 2 From domestication genomics towards molecular ecology of human environments. Bergström, J Anthropol Sci. 2021From domestication genomics towards molecular ecology of human environments. Bergström, J Anthropol Sci. 2021
  • 3 Insights into human genetic variation and population history from 929 diverse genomes. Bergström et al., Science 2020

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2024. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 10th January 2024.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£18,622 p.a. for 2023/24) and research funding. International applicants are eligible for fully-funded ARIES studentships including fees. Please note however that ARIES funding does not cover additional costs associated with relocation to, and living in, the UK. We expect to award between 4 and 6 studentships to international candidates in 2024.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences, on top of all Research Costs associated with the project. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience, and our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding.
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship follow the instructions at the bottom of the page or click the 'apply now' link.
  • ARIES is required by our funders to collect Equality and Diversity Information from all of our applicants. The information you provide will be used solely for monitoring and statistical purposes; it will remain confidential, and will be stored on the UEA sharepoint server. Data will not be shared with those involved in making decisions on the award of Studentships, and will have no influence on the success of your application. It will only be shared outside of this group in an anonymised and aggregated form. You will be ask to complete the form by the University to which you apply.
  • ARIES funding is subject to UKRI terms and conditions. Postgraduate Researchers are expected to live within reasonable distance of their host organisation for the duration of their studentship. See https://www.ukri.org/publications/terms-and-conditions-for-training-funding/ for more information

Applications open

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