Opportunities

Now recruiting PhD students and Postdocs!

I am advertising several competitive Ph.D. studentships*. Successful applicants would begin in October 2019. Take a look at the project descriptions below and get in touch if you are interested. Please make informal inquiries prior to 14 December.
*interested applicants will work with me to develop and submit an application, the outcome of which will be known sometime in Spring 2019.

For information about joining as a post-doc, click here.

Durham is a charming market town, with a downtown area that doubles as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city of Newcastle is a short train ride away. For more information about living in and around Durham, click here.

I am a committed advocate for students and postdocscoming from backgrounds that have historically been marginalised in academic spaces.

Studentship Opportunities:

(1) Male mate recognition and female phenotypes: testing for reproductive character displacement in demoiselle damselflies (Calopteryx spp.)

Wasteful reproductive interactions between species, known as reproductive interference, impact numerous ecological and evolutionary processes (e.g., determining whether species can coexist). Theoretical models of reproductive interference largely focus on male signal traits and their impacts on female mating decisions. Nevertheless, male mating decisions are often the primary drivers of reproductive interference. Demoiselle damselflies (Calopteryx spp.) are a model system for studying the evolutionary consequences of social interactions between species. Yet, despite the fact that male damselflies initiate mating interactions, there has been little research into the mechanisms by which variation in female demoiselle phenotypes impact male sexual responses. Consequently, there remains much unexplained spatial and temporal variation in reproductive interference, even in this model system. To address this critical gap in our understanding of how male behaviour and female phenotypes impact the dynamics of reproductive interference, this PhD will employ a unique combination of behavioural experiments on damselflies in the field, public engagement through citizen science, and cutting-edge AI methods to test the hypothesis that low levels of reproductive interference between Calopteryx damselflies in the UK have resulted from reproductive character displacement acting on either male mate recognition or female wing coloration.

Co-Supervisors: Dr. Tom August (Centre for Ecology & Hydrology), Dr. David Shuker (St. Andrew's)
(For submission to NERC IAPETUS Doctoral Training Program competition)
(Project description on findaphd)
1Intended largely for U.K. based applicants, though E.U. applicants are welcome to inquire

(2) Building species interactions into macroevolutionary analyses of trait and range evolution2

Competition between species is a fundamental force influencing the evolutionary dynamics of species’ traits and ranges. Most phylogenetic comparative methods (PCMs), however, have been designed with the assumption that lineages evolve independently of one another. This is true for existing models of trait evolution (e.g., Brownian Motion, Ornstein-Uhlenbeck, and their various offshoots) and models of historical biogeography used to infer ancestral ranges (e.g., the dispersal-extinction-cladogenesis [DEC] model). Recently, there has been a surge of interest in extending phylogenetic tools to test hypotheses about the role of competition on trait evolution. However, to date, while a few new tools for testing for an impact of competition on trait evolution exist, there are no existing tools for fitting a process-based model of the effect of competition on range dynamics at macroevolutionary scales. Building on existing computational frameworks, the student will design a set of inference tools to fit a model of historical biogeography that incorporates interspecific competition in the form of both character displacement and competitive exclusion (e.g., using Approximate Bayesian Computation [ABC]). The student will first build the tools to fit this model using ABC and then describe the statistical properties of this model. Then, the student will identify an empirical system (e.g., Lesser Antillean Anolis lizards, Hawaiian honeycreepers) on which to deploy this method to test hypotheses about the relative role of evolutionary and ecological processes driving trait divergence during adaptive radiations.

Co-Supervisor: Dr. Sally Street (Durham University Department of Anthropology)
(For submission to Durham Doctoral Studentship competition)
(Project description on findaphd)
2Eligible for U.K. and international applicants (though visa fees are unfortunately not covered)

(3) The evolutionary dynamics of positive allometry in antlers within and across deer3

The antlers of members of the deer family have long captivated naturalists around the world. Among evolutionary biologists, antlers have become a textbook example of what is known as positive allometry—a relationship where larger individuals have disproportionately large antlers. On scales of millions of years, this relationship is what led to the evolution of gigantic antlers in the extinct Irish Elk. This relationship also holds within species: larger Red Deer individuals, for instance, possess large antlers, even relative to their large body size. Yet, while this pattern of positive allometry is present within and across species, there has been no comprehensive study investigating the evolution of this relationship in all deer. Moreover, there remain several competing explanations for why large antlers have evolved in the first place. For this project, the student will reconcile phylogenetic hypotheses from several recent studies to create a time-calibrated phylogeny of deer. Using this phylogeny, in combination with a database of interspecific variation in body and antler size among deer species, the student will test several competing hypotheses about evolutionary dynamics of allometric growth of antlers: the evolutionary constraint hypothesis (antler elaboration is limited by the physical environments in which species live), the social selection hypothesis (antlers have evolved to mediate intraspecific social interactions), and the antipredator mechanism hypothesis (large antlers have evolved as a deterrent to predators).

Co-Supervisor: Dr. Sally Street (Durham University Department of Anthropology)
(For submission to The Whitehead Trust Studentship competition)
(Project description on findaphd)
3Eligible for U.K. based applicants only

Postdoc Opportunities:

At the moment, I do not have funds to hire a postdoc. However, I would be glad to hear from folks interested in developing funding applications for postdoctoral fellowships (e.g., through Marie Curie Actions, Newton International Fellowships, or others). I am open to discussing the possibility of working remotely (i.e.,"ghostdoc"ing).

Possible project:

Current phylogenetic methods for estimating ancestral ranges assume that interactions between species do not impact range evolution. Yet, many theoretical models of range dynamics invoke competition between species (e.g., via niche incumbency or other forms of competitive exclusion). In a collaborative project with Jeet Sukumaran and Lacey Knowles, we are developing new phylogenetic models of range evolution that can be used to test for an impact of competition between species on macroevolutionary range dynamics. There are plenty of opportunities for a postdoc to work to develop and/or use this model, potentially working in either of our labs.