The evolutionary ecology of dispersal in invading populations


The evolutionary ecology of dispersal in invading populations


Project Description


Dr Lewis Spurgin (UEA Biological Sciences)

Prof Matt Gage (UEA)

Dr James Gilroy (UEA)

This exciting studentship addresses a fundamental scientific question: how do genes and the environment influence patterns of dispersal within and among populations? Answering this question is essential if we are to manage invasive species and crop pests. The student will combine lab experiments with modern population and quantitative genetic techniques to address this key scientific and societal challenge.

The problem

Invasive species are major drivers of extinctions, and impose huge costs on economies. Climate change is exacerbating the threats imposed by invasive species, so a detailed understanding of invasions and invaders is of pressing importance. There is increasing evidence that rapid evolutionary adaptation in invasive species is a central feature of their success. Exciting recent data show dispersal propensity is a key trait that rapidly evolves during invasions, with important consequences for the probability and rate at which an invading population will establish and spread. However, we have limited understanding of the genetic basis of dispersal, and of how selection acts on variation in dispersal propensity in invading populations.

Project aims

This project will use controlled experiments on the model beetle Tribolium castaneum to understand how genes and the environment influence dispersal. The student will use artificial selection, DNA sequencing, and quantitative genetic analyses to identify the genetic basis of dispersal in this model species. They will then test how features of the social (e.g. density, kin structure) and ecological environment (e.g. temperature, food availability) interact with genetic effects on dispersal. The student be encouraged throughout to consider their findings in the context of natural invasions, and may have the opportunity to sample invasive harlequin ladybird populations to understand how dispersal evolves in an ecologically relevant setting.


In addition to broad-spectrum training, the student will be trained in eco-evolutionary theory, experimental evolution, genetics, bioinformatics.

About you

You will have a good degree in biology, ecology or a related subject. You will have a passion for research and the natural world. Interested applicants are encouraged to email the primary supervisor:



  • Godwin, J. L., Spurgin, L. G., Michalczyk, Ł., Martin, O. Y., Lumley, A. J., Chapman, T., & Gage, M. J. Lineages evolved under stronger sexual selection show superior ability to invade conspecific competitor populations. Evolution Letters. DOI: 10.1002/evl3.80
  • Lumley, A. J., Michalczyk, Ł., Kitson, J. J., Spurgin, L. G., Morrison, C. A., Godwin, J. L., ... & Gage, M. J. (2015). Sexual selection protects against extinction. Nature, 522, 470.
  • Spurgin, L. G., Illera, J. C., Jorgensen, T. H., Dawson, D. A., & Richardson, D. S. (2014). Genetic and phenotypic divergence in an island bird: isolation by distance, by colonization or by adaptation?. Molecular Ecology, 23, 1028-1039.
  • Lombaert, E., Estoup, A., Facon, B., Joubard, B., Grégoire, J. C., Jannin, A., ... & Guillemaud, T. (2014). Rapid increase in dispersal during range expansion in the invasive ladybird Harmonia axyridis. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 27, 508-517.
  • Ochocki, B. M., & Miller, T. E. (2017). Rapid evolution of dispersal ability makes biological invasions faster and more variable. Nature Communications, 8, 14315.

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