Hybridization and climate change in Alpine orchids


Hybridization and climate change in Alpine orchids


Project Description


Dr Kelsey Byers, John Innes Centre – Contact me

Professor Cock Van Oosterhout, University of East Anglia, School of Environmental Sciences, Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Conservation

Professor Enrico Coen, John Innes Centre

Scientific background

Hybrid populations of orchids in the European Alps produce a “natural laboratory” that enables us to study adaptive evolution in response to rapid environmental change. Alpine ecosystems are under severe threat of global warming and environmental change. Meadows on different mountains provide an outstanding study system to examine response to environmental change in a naturally replicated design. This allows us to examine parallel evolution in response to environmental change across hybrids and their ancestor species.

Project aims

The goal of this project is to understand how species persist in fragile habitats despite the challenges of hybridization and climate change. The aims are: (1) determine ancestry of hybrid orchids; (2) understand barriers preventing species collapse between parent species from (1); and (3) understand how these species may be responding to past and future climate change.


This project combines various techniques, including field surveys of orchid populations, sequencing and analysis, and use of historical records of orchid occurrence and climate. The student will spend part of each summer in the European Alps surveying populations for flowering time and climate factors and collecting tissue for DNA analysis of hybrids and their parent species. Fieldwork will also include collection of pollinators and fruits to determine isolating barriers between parent species besides flowering time. By combining historical climate and occurrence/flowering time data, the student will determine the historical effects of climate change on populations and their potential for hybridization. Using spatial modeling/GIS, the student will also predict the effects of future climate change.

Training opportunities

The student will have the opportunity for fieldwork in the Alps as well as training in methods in both the field and lab settings. This includes methods in genetics, entomology, botany, and bioinformatics. Professional training in scientific writing and presentation, as well as development of knowledge in the field through reading, are also an integral part of this project.

Person specification

The ideal student for this project would have a background in evolution, ecology, and/or genetics. Experience working with plants and/or insects is a plus. We seek an enthusiastic, collaborative individual who is excited by interdisciplinary research.


  • 1 L. Piñeiro Fernández, K.J.R.P. Byers, J. Cai, K.E.M. Sedeek, R.T. Kellenberger, A. Russo, W. Qi, C.A. Fournier, & P.M. Schlüter. (2020) A phylogenomic analysis of the floral transcrip- tomes of sexually deceptive and rewarding European orchids, Ophrys and Gymnadenia. Frontiers in Plant Science 10:1553.
  • 2 R.T. Kellenberger, K.J.R.P. Byers, R.M. De Brito Francisco, Y.M. Staedler, A.M. LaFountain, J. Schönenberger, F.P. Schiestl, & P.M. Schlüter (2019) Emergence of a floral colour polymorphism by pollinator-mediated overdominance. Nature Communications 10:63. R.T. Kellenberger, K.J.R.P. Byers, R.M. De Brito Francisco, Y.M. Staedler, A.M. LaFountain, J. Schönenberger, F.P. Schiestl, & P.M. Schlüter (2019) Emergence of a floral colour polymorphism by pollinator-mediated overdominance. Nature Communications 10:63.
  • 3 B.J. Ward & C. Van Oosterhout (2015) HYBRIDCHECK: software for the rapid detection, visualization, and dating of recombinant regions in genome sequence data. Molecular Ecology Resources 16:534-539.
  • 4 M. Hedrén, R. Lorenz, & D. Ståhlberg (2018) Evidence for bidirectional hybridization between Gymnadenia and Nigritella. Journal Europaischer Orchideen 50:43-60.
  • 5 C. Geppert, G. Perazza, R.J. Wilson, A. Bertolli, F. Prosser, G. Melchiori, & L. Marini (2020) Consistent population declines but idiosyncratic range shifts in Alpine orchids under global change. Nature Communications 11:5835.

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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