Evolution in action: using museum DNA to understand disease resistance in island birds

CASE award with the Instituto de Productos Naturales y Agrobiología, Spain (RICHARDSON_UBIO19ARIES)

Evolution in action: using museum DNA to understand disease resistance in island birds

CASE award with the Instituto de Productos Naturales y Agrobiología, Spain (RICHARDSON_UBIO19ARIES)

Project Description


Prof David S Richardson (UEA Biological Sciences)

Dr Lewis Spurgin (UEA)

Dr B Emerson (IPNA-CSIC)

Dr Matt Clark (Natural History Museum)

Many natural populations are facing a “double threat” of reduced genetic diversity and new pathogen challenges. Therefore, understanding how hosts adapt to pathogens in small and fragmented populations has important ramifications for conservation, epidemiology and evolution. However, we still lack fundamental understanding of the mechanisms that enable natural populations to respond and adapt to changing pathogen pressures. Next-generation sequencing methods combined with temporal sampling of wild populations now make it possible to undertake an exciting, powerful and timely investigation of these questions.


You will join a dynamic research programme assessing adaptation within island populations of Berthelot’s pipit, and have full access to large-scale genetic, ecological and pathogen data. You will use museum specimens (1820s), alongside previously collected samples (2006) and fieldwork in Macaronesia (2020), to quantify spatio-temporal immunogenomic variation among divergent populations known to differ in pathogen load. Genomes from contemporary samples will allow you to identify loci that show high or divergent variation across populations, and sequence capture will then be used to screen these loci across samples spanning 200 years. You will then use population genetic modelling to investigate the evolutionary forces driving immunogenomic variation over space and time.

Specific questions can be developed and prioritized according to your own interests but the work revolves around the following areas:

1.   Identifying spatially and temporally divergent loci between populations

2.   Investigating the role of mutational mechanisms in enabling change at divergent loci

3.   Assessing the importance of pathogen-mediated selection and genetic drift in genetic change in small populations

4.   Testing the role of different selection mechanisms in maintaining immunogenetic variation


You will join a thriving, world class research group at UEA, spend at least three months at IPNA, (the case partner in Tenerife) and collaborate with the Natural History Museum, London.

You will gain:

  • Molecular laboratory, bioinformatics and data analysis skills.
  • Ecological fieldwork experience
  • Understanding of evolutionary biology and conservation genetics
  • Training in critical thinking, scientific writing and the public communication of science
  • Extensive training to increase generic scientific skills and enhance employability.

Person specification

Degree in biology, zoology, or related subject; field, molecular, and/or analytical skills preferred.


  • Armstrong, C Richardson DS, Spurgin LG (2018) Genomic associations with bill length and disease reveal drift and selection across island bird populations. Evolution Letters 2 (1), 22-36
  • Gonzalez-Quevedo C, Davies RG Phillips KP, Spurgin LG and Richardson DS. (2016), Landscape-scale variation in an anthropogenic factor shapes immune gene variation within a wild population. Mol Ecol, 25: 4234–4246
  • Spurgin LG, Illera JC, Jorgensen TH, Dawson DA, Richardson DS (2014) Genetic and phenotypic divergence in an island bird: isolation by distance, by colonization or by adaptation? Mol. Ecol. 23: 1028-1039.
  • Spurgin LG. & Richardson DS. (2010) How pathogens drive genetic diversity: MHC, mechanisms and misunderstandings, PRSB, 277, 979–988.
  • Spurgin LG, Wright DJ, Velde M, Collar NJ, Komdeur J, Burke T, Richardson DS (2014) Museum DNA reveals the demographic history of the endangered Seychelles warbler. Evolutionary Applications 7(9):1134-1143.

Open for Application

Apply Now