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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities

Lead Supervisor: Andrea Manica, Zoology

Co-Supervisor: Emily Mitchell, Zoology

Brief summary: 
By integrating genetics, ecology, and climate, you will investigate the key drivers that shaped species diversity in the African continent.
Importance of the area of research concerned: 
Climate change poses a real challenge to biodiversity. But our ability to predict the impacts of global change is limited, preventing us from building robust management strategies. Past change provides an ideal natural experiment to study the response of species to environmental change. In this project, we will look at the impact of past change on Africa diversity, using a set of novel tools that combine paleoclimate reconstructions with niche models and population genomics.
Project summary : 
In this project, you will reconstruct the drivers that has shaped patterns of population genetics diversity in a number of species. By explicitly reconstructing the ranges of these species through time, taking advantage of continuous paleoclimate reconstructions, you will quantify the role of habitat fragmentation on a large scale. By comparing and contrasting different species, you will then link their ecology to their sensitivity to global change during the last glacial cycle.
What will the student do?: 
The student will have access to a number of population genomics datasets (publicly available as well provided by collaborators) on a number of species (giraffes, antelopes, zebras, etc.). The first step will be to use bioinformatics tools to process the raw genetic data to estimate various summary statistics that describe the distribution of genetic diversity within the species range. The second step will be to use cisgem, a genetic simulator developed by the group, to fit population genetics models in which the population dynamics is conditioned by the climate reconstructions; the rules linking climate to population dynamics are quantified by matching the simulated to observed genetic patterns. During this PhD, the student will learn how to process genetic data (i.e. bioinformatics), population genetic modelling (with the option of learning advanced programming skills), species distribution modelling, as well as becoming proficient in the use of big data (both genetic and environmental).
References - references should provide further reading about the project: 
Miller, E. F. et al. Post-glacial expansion dynamics, not refugial isolation, shaped the genetic structure of a migratory bird, the Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia). bioRxiv 2021.05.10.443405 (2021)
Maisano Delser P. et al. Climate and mountains shaped human ancestral genetic lineages. bioRxiv 2021.07.13.452067 (2021) doi:
You can find out about applying for this project on the Department of Zoology page.
Dr Emily Mitchell
Department of Zoology Graduate Administrator
Dr Andrea Manica