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Applications are now open for PhD studentships starting in October 2018. 

Please read the recruitment introduction for more information about eligibility, how to apply, and possibilities for further funding.

The deadline for applications is 8 January 2018.

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DUMBRELL_E18EE - Evolutionary Responses of Freshwater Invertebrates to Global Climate Change

Project description

Selected other supervisors:
Dr Michelle Taylor (University of Essex)
Professor Guy Woodward (Imperial College London)
Dr Eoin O’Gorman (Imperial College London)
Dr Rebecca Kordas (Imperial College London)

Scientific background
Global warming is arguably the greatest current stressor to natural systems, with ecological impacts resonating through entire food webs. This is particularly true in freshwater ecosystems, which are both highly species-rich environments, and also particularly vulnerable to warming. However, while previous research has demonstrated a broad range of ecological responses to warming in freshwaters, very little is known about the underlying genetic/genomic mechanisms behind both short- and long- term acclimative and adaptive responses of the animal populations inhabiting these ecosystems.

Research methodology
This PhD research will use both natural model ecosystems (a series of geothermally warmed streams in Iceland) and large-scale mesocosm-based warming experiments, to investigate genes-to-genome responses to long-term and short-term warming of freshwaters respectively, focusing across a number of invertebrate taxa. The PhD student will be responsible for developing testable hypotheses in areas of population genetics, and evolutionary genomics/transcriptomics, which can be tested using the latest Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) and bioinformatics approaches on samples collected by the student from our field and mesocosm systems, and/or via preserved specimens from our previous fieldwork.

The student will benefit from joining an extensive research team based across the University of Essex and Imperial College London, which is tackling ecological questions about climate change in freshwater ecosystems. Alongside excellent generic PhD and professional skills development training provided by the EnvEast DTP, the student will received training in advanced research skills that are in significant demand; these include: Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), bioinformatics, field ecology, and mesocosm experimentation.

Person specification
We are looking for an enthusiastic person with a good undergraduate and/or master’s degree in a related subject (e.g. Ecology, Genetics or Genomics) and a broad interest in Freshwater Biology. The ideal candidate will relish the opportunity to develop their career in a vibrant and well equipped research group and answer questions of societal importance. You must possess well-developed oral and written communication skills and be able to manage your time effectively. Although based at the University of Essex, you will also be expected to spend time working at Imperial College London’s Silwood Park Campus, and in Iceland.

This project has been shortlisted for funding by the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, comprising the Universities of East Anglia, Essex and Kent, with over twenty other research partners. Undertaking a PhD with the EnvEast DTP will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.

Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed by EnvEast on 12/13 February 2018.

Selected candidates who meet RCUK’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - in 2017/18, the stipend is £14,553. Ordinarily, EnvEast studentships are for 3.5 years, although longer awards may be made to applicants from quantitative disciplines who have limited experience in the environmental sciences, to allow them to take appropriate advanced-level courses in the subject area.

In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a stipend. For non-UK EU-resident applicants NERC funding can be used to cover tuition fees, RTSG and training costs, but not any part of the stipend. Individual institutes may, however, elect to provide a stipend from their own resources.

This PhD studentship is expected to begin in September/October 2018. Both full-time and part-time study are possible (those planning to study part-time may wish to discuss this with the supervisor before applying).


  1. O’Gorman, E.J., Zhao, L., Pichler, D.E., Adams, G., Friberg, N., Rall, B.C., Seeney, A., Zhang, H., Reuman, D.C. and Woodward, G., 2017. Unexpected changes in community size structure in a natural warming experiment. Nature Climate Change, 7, 659-663.
  2. O'Gorman, E.J., Pichler, D.E., Adams, G., Benstead, J.P., Cohen, H., Craig, N. et al. (2012). Impacts of warming on the structure and functioning of aquatic communities: individual- to ecosystem-level responses. Advances in Ecological Research, 47, 81-176.
  3. Bohan, D.A., Vacher, C., Tamaddoni-Nezhad, A., Raybould, A., Dumbrell, A.J., Woodward, G. (2017). Next-generation Global Biomonitoring – large-scale, automated reconstruction of ecological networks. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 32, 477-487.
  4. Thompson, M.S.A., Bankier, C., Bell, T., Dumbrell, A.J., Gray, C., Ledger, M.E., Lehmann, K., McKew, B.A., Sayer, C.D., Shelley, F., Trimmer, M., Warren, S.L., Woodward, G. (2016). Gene-to-ecosystem impacts of a catastrophic pesticide spill: testing a multilevel bioassessment approach in a river ecosystem. Freshwater Biology, 61, 2037-2053.
  5. Johansson, M.P., Quintela, M., Laurila, A. (2016). Genetic divergence and isolation by thermal environment in geothermal populations of an aquatic invertebrate. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 29, 1701-1712.