Drivers of life history variation in flatworms

The SalGo lab, Aboobaker lab and Jackson lab at the Department of Zoology of Oxford University invite joint applications for a PhD in the area of life history theory, population/community ecology, ecological modelling, and parasitology. The project will examine the drivers of alternative life history strategies using flatworms as model organisms. Flatworms (Platyhelminthes) are small acoelomate organisms that lack specialised circulatory or respiratory organs and have a single digestive cavity opening. In the UK, where this project will take place, flatworms are typically found under rocks in freshwater habitats. With over 25,000 known species, flatworms display a great deal of variation in life history strategies and conservation status. Some flatworm species reproduce strictly asexually by fission, while others can reproduce both sexually and asexually; some species are short-lived, while others, through their ability to regenerate, can live extremely long lives and potentially avoid physiological senescence altogether. In addition, some flatworms in the UK are invasive, while others are believed to be narrow endemics.

This PhD project could take (i.e. we expect the prospective candidate to take the project in innovative directions) any mixture of experimental, theoretical and field work approaches to (i) examine the factors that have contributed to the evolution of the fascinating flatworm life history traits (e.g. How did the mechanisms that allow regenerative life histories and asexuality evolve?); and (ii) test how these life history strategies might now allow them to persist in a world characterised by anthropogenic environmental change (How robust are flatworm life history strategies to changes in the environment? How do multiple stressors impact the diversity of life history strategies in flatworm communities?). The student will capitalise on the world-leading expertise in flatworm biology, regenerative biology, experimental biology, and ecological modelling at the Department of Zoology of the University of Oxford. A range of quantitative methods (mathematical theory and statistics), field and laboratory experimental manipulations, including mesocosms, will be applied. Plausible hypotheses to test using a combination of approaches include the role of abiotic (e.g. global warming, pollution, habitat loss), and biotic stressors (e.g. predators, parasites, cannibalism) in the shaping of life history strategies and demographic/community outcomes.

Funding:

The candidate will be applying for this project as a CASE NERC DTP studentship project. More details here https://www.environmental-research.ox.ac.uk. However, we note that students’ eligibility for funding from the DTP is limited to UK/European citizens. Interested non-UK/non-European citizens are welcome to propose and seek alternative funding support from their home countries.

The applicant should have at least an upper second-class undergraduate degree (or equivalent overseas qualification; see http://www.fulbright.org.uk/going-to-the-usa/pre-departure/academics) in a relevant subject (e.g. biology, evolution, ecology), and either postgraduate experience at the MSc level (or similar), or alternative research experience (e.g. laboratory assistant, fieldwork assistant). Non-native English speakers must be able to provide proof of excellent oral and written communication skills. Experience in laboratory and fieldwork settings, as well as programming are strongly encouraged.

Location:

The University of Oxford
Department of Zoology, OX1 3SZ, Oxford, UK

General contact info:

Interested candidates are encouraged to contact Dr Rob Salguero-Gómez (rob.salguero@zoo.ox.ac.uk) with (1) a max 1 page statement letter detailing overall research interests and specific interests in this project, and (2) a 2 page CV.

General info on PhD applications to Oxford:

Details on PhD application at the Department of Zoology of the University of Oxford can be found here: https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/graduate/courses/dphil-zoology?wssl=1

More info on the advisory team:

Assoc Prof R. Salguero-Gomez – https://www.zoo.ox.ac.uk/people/dr-rob-salguero-gomez

Prof Aziz Aboobaker – https://www.zoo.ox.ac.uk/people/professor-aziz-aboobaker

Assoc Prof Michelle Jackson – https://www.zoo.ox.ac.uk/people/dr-michelle-jackson

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