PhD position Environmental predictability and the evolution of parental effects

University of Groningen
September 13 2017
Position Type
Full Time
Organization Type

The PhD position is situated within the Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences (GELIFES), in a collaboration between the groups Theoretical Research in Evolutionary Life Sciences (Prof Ido Pen) and Evolutionary Genetics, Development & Behaviour (Profs Jean-Christophe Billeter and Ton Groothuis).

We are looking for a PhD candidate for the following research project:
Environmental predictability and the evolution of parental effects: integrating ecology, phylogeny, modelling and genetics

To predict how species will adapt in a rapidly changing world requires evolutionary models based on knowledge of developmental plasticity to various forms of environmental fluctuations. A hotly debated pathway of such plasticity is based on the transfer of non-genetic information from parents to offspring - known as parental effects. According to recent theoretical models, if parental and offspring environments are sufficiently alike, then the parental phenotype can be used as a source of information for offspring to adaptively match their environment. Thus, parental effects may play a crucial role in adaptation to changing environments. We will use a comparative approach to test this prediction in multiple Drosophila species, sampled globally from populations with different levels of similarity in ambient temperature between parental and offspring environments. We recently demonstrated adaptive parental effects in Drosophila melanogaster: the eggs of parents who reproduced at low or high temperatures survived better to adulthood when parental and offspring thermal conditions matched (both low or both high). Using similar experiments, we will quantify how parental effects affect adaptation in the sampled Drosophila populations. To test the theory, we will develop quantitative evolutionary models, taking into account observed population-specific demography and temperature fluctuations, and predict the relative importance of parental effects. Using genes discovered in our ongoing experimental evolution study on parental effects in D. melanogaster, we will compare sequence and structure of candidate genes underlying parental effects from the sampled populations. By thus integrating theory, ecology and genetics we will critically advance our understanding of transgenerational adaptive plasticity and quantify its importance for adaptation in a world with increasingly rapid changes in temperature.

This job comes from a partnership with Science Magazine and Euraxess