Understanding Lifelong and Multigenerational Inbreeding Effects in the Seychelles Warbler


Understanding Lifelong and Multigenerational Inbreeding Effects in the Seychelles Warbler


Project Description


Professor David S Richardson (School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia) contact me

Dr Lewis Spurgin (School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia)

Dr Hannah Dugdale (Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences, University of Groningen)

Project Background

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.

Person Specification

Degree in Biology/Zoology/related subject required. Field, molecular and/or analytical skills preferred.


  • 1. Hammers, M, Kingma, S, Spurgin, L, Bebbington, K, Dugdale, H, Burke, T, Komdeur, J & Richardson, DS (2019). Breeders that receive help age more slowly in a cooperatively breeding bird. Nature Communications. 10, (1) 1301.
  • 2. Spurgin, L. G., & Gage, M. J. G. (2019). Conservation: The Costs of Inbreeding and of Being Inbred. Current Biology, 29, 16, R796–R798).
  • 3. Bebbington K, Spurgin LG, Fairfield EA, Dugdale HL, Komdeur J, Burke T, Richardson DS (2016) Telomere length reveals cumulative individual and transgenerational inbreeding effects in a passerine bird. Molecular Ecology. 25 (12), 2949-296.
  • 4. Richardson DS, Komdeur J, Burke T (2004) Inbreeding in the Seychelles warbler: environment-dependent maternal effects. Evolution 58, 2037-2048.
  • 5. Eikenaar C, Komdeur J. Brouwer L, Richardson DS. (2008) Investigating inbreeding avoidance and dispersal in a contained population of the Seychelles warbler. J Evolutionary. Biology. 21, 1106-1116.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2021. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2021.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£15,285 p.a. for 2020-21) and research funding. For the first time in 2021/22 international applicants (EU and non-EU) will be eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships. Please note ARIES funding does not cover visa costs (including immigration health surcharge) or other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences. 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 in the subject area.
  • 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 significant relevant non-academic 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 click on the “Apply now” link below.

Get in Touch

aries.dtp@uea.ac.uk /