Professor David S Richardson, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia
Dr Mark McMullan, Earlham Institute
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.
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.
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.