Skip to Content

ENV East Doctoral Training Partnership


Applications to the EnvEast Doctoral Training Partnership are now closed.

Below you can browse some of the PhD projects we have previously funded; if you would like to be informed when applications open, or if you have any questions about EnvEast and our application process, please email us.

Projects previously funded by EnvEast


Offspring or survival: Antagonistic effects and the maintenance of genetic variation in an isolated island population of Seychelles warblers

Project description

This project will investigate how different mechanisms - including antagonistic effects on survival and reproduction - interact to maintain genetic variation within a population of the Seychelles warbler.

Genetic variation provides the building blocks for evolution and underpins biodiversity. It is key to the adaptive potential of populations, affecting their probability of extinction. How genetic variation is maintained in natural populations, especially small ones, is therefore a fundamental question in evolutionary and conservation biology. Nowhere is diversity more important than at immune genes, which underpin the ability of individuals and populations to combat pathogens. However we still do not understand how different mechanisms interact to maintain such diversity within natural populations. Only by using modern molecular tools in conjunction with detailed information on individual fitness within populations will we resolve these issues.

Our long-term study of an island population of Seychelles warblers provides an excellent system in which to do this. We have shown that major histocompatibility complex (MHC) variation has been maintained in this bottlenecked species through a combination of natural and sexual selection. Moreover, a single MHC allele can provide individuals with a five-fold greater life expectancy but, intriguingly, the frequency of this allele in the population has not increased. These contradictory results suggest the presence of antagonist effects that counterbalance the positive effect of this allele on survival by negative effects on reproduction. 

This interdisciplinary project will develop an exceptional range of skills, including fieldwork techniques, molecular tools, bioinformatics and analytical expertise. 


For further details, see:

Spurgin LG, & Richardson DS. (2010). How pathogens drive genetic diversity: MHC, mechanisms and misunderstandings. PRS B 277(1684),979-988.

Richardson DS, et al (2005) MHC-based patterns of social and extra-pair mate choice in the Seychelles warbler. PRS B. 272(1564):759-767

Brouwer L... & Richardson DS (2010). MHC‐dependent survival in a wild population: Mol.Ecol, 19(16),3444-3455.

Wright (2014) Evolutionary and conservation genetics of the Seychelles warbler. Thesis dissertation, UEA.

  • Start date September 2016