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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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GAGE_UBIO18EE - Measuring the reach and significance of sexual selection using experimental evolution (CASE studentship with ETH Zurich)

Project description

Selected other project supervisors:
Dr Lewis Spurgin (UEA)
Professor Tracey Chapman (UEA)
Dr Oliver Martin (ETH, Zurich)

Sexual selection, when males compete and females choose within reproduction, is a potent evolutionary force that influences most species on Earth. This PhD will employ the powerful tool of experimental evolution to advance our understanding of how this force shapes biodiversity in some key areas that remain poorly understood.

You will address important gaps in our knowledge of how sexual selection drives adaptation to environmental change (such as global warming or novel pathogens), its consequences for population fitness (and conservation biology), and its impact on the evolution of sperm form, function and fertilisation. Using our established lines of the highly tractable insect model Tribolium castaneum, which have been carefully evolved for 10+ years at UEA under completely different strengths of sexual selection, you will design and conduct research to experimentally test some important evolutionary theories. Our lines have clearly diverged, and already yielded some important discoveries (see references), so this PhD is an excellent opportunity to answer further fundamental questions about how forces in the natural environment influence population fitness, evolutionary adaptation, and processes at the fertilisation level.

Approach & Training
The project allows focus through a number of areas, to be prioritized according to your own interests and abilities. You will be trained to design, conduct and analyse rigorously-controlled experiments that will reveal how sexual selection shapes population fitness, and adaptation to novel environments. You will master techniques in microdissection and advanced bioimaging to understand functional complexity within the female reproductive tract. You will apply traditional and modern genetic techniques to quantify gene flow and diversity. The PhD therefore provides an excellent opportunity to conduct and generate world-class scientific research within the biodiversity of reproduction.

Research Environment
You will join a welcoming and active research group at UEA generating world-class, NERC-supported Discovery Science, an energetic EnvEast cohort, and work with our collaborators in Zurich and Krakow. This environment will allow you to develop into an independent-thinking, international-impact scientist. You should have a good degree in a relevant area, research experience, and be keen to make fundamental advances in evolutionary biology. Contact supervisor Matthew Gage for further details.

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. Godwin JL, Vasudeva R, Michalczyk Ł, Martin OY, Lumley AJ, Chapman T & Gage MJG (2017) Experimental evolution reveals that sperm competition intensity selects for longer, more costly sperm. Evolution Letters 1, 102-113.
  2. Lumley AJ, Michalczyk Ł, Kitson JJN, Spurgin LG, Morrison CA, Godwin JL, Dickinson ME, Martin OY, Emerson BC, Chapman T & Gage MJG (2015) Sexual selection protects against extinction. Nature 522, 470-473.
  3. Gage MJG (2012) Complex sperm evolution. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 109, 4341-4342.
  4. Bretman A Westmancoat JD Gage MJG & Chapman T (2011) Males use multiple, redundant cues to detect mating rivals. Current Biology 21, 617-622.
  5. Michalczyk Ł, Millard AL, Lumley AJ, Martin OY, 3. Emerson BC, Chapman T & Gage MJG (2011) Inbreeding promotes female promiscuity. Science 333, 1739-1742.