Dr Lewis Spurgin (School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia)
Dr Hannah Dugdale (Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences, University of Groningen)
How strongly inbreeding impacts wild animal populations and their conservation is still much debated, and probably greatly underestimated!
As anthropogenic effects are driving many species into small, stressed populations where inbreeding and its effects are greatly exacerbated, it is urgent and important to resolve this question. Previous studies on inbreeding have been undermined by difficulties in measuring inbreeding, and/or restricted to short-term assessments of survival and reproduction. To properly quantify inbreeding depression, reproductive success must be measured across entire lifespans, and ideally beyond – to quantify how each individual contributes to the population over multiple generations.
The monitoring of a small, isolated island population of the Seychelles warbler since 1993 provides a strong foundation for an exciting and topical PhD accurately assessing long-term inbreeding effects. Inbreeding occurs in the warbler but how it impacts life-long fitness has not been determined. You will have access to an exceptional dataset tracking breeding and reproduction over the lives of 2000+ individuals. Genomic information will allow you to accurately resolve inbreeding, while the 12+ generation pedigree will enable analyses of reproductive success over generations. Fieldwork on Cousin Island will be undertaken to extend the data, assess survival and senescence and understand the system.
The following objectives can be developed and prioritised according to your interests,
1) Quantify the impact of inbreeding and being inbred on lifetime reproductive success (including sex and age/senescence effects)
2) Assess inbreeding depression in terms of the genetic contribution to the population over multiple generations.
3) Determine how much purging (selection against deleterious alleles) reduces future inbreeding depression.
At UEA you will join a thriving (friendly) research group, supported by a vibrant ARIES cohort, work with BirdLife International (CASE partner) and collaborate with partners in the Seychelles and Groningen. You will gain diverse research skills in fieldwork, bioinformatics, data analysis, conceptual understanding in evolutionary biology and conservation, critical thinking, scientific writing and public communication. Training to increase transferable skills and enhance employability will also be provided.
Degree in Biology/Zoology/related subject required. Field, molecular and/or analytical skills preferred.