Category Archives: News

NERC funded PhD position

I am currently advertising for a PhD student with interests in evolution and behaviour to work on a project investigating the role of iridescent structural colour in predator avoidance and mate choice in Heliconius butterflies, co-supervised by Mike Speed, Institute of Integrative Biology, Liverpool.


The bright wing colours of these butterflies act as warnings to predators and mimicry between species facilitates predator learning and reduces attack rates. Wing colours are also used for mate choice and attraction. The main colours used are red, yellow and black, due to pigments, but a small number of species also exhibit iridescent blue/green, due to sub-micron scale structures. The role of these colours in deterring predators and attracting mates is less well understood. The project can be tailored to the interests of the student but would likely involve experiments using captive butterfly populations in South/Central America and the UK, and could involve experiments with wild or captive avian predators or theoretical modelling. The project would also tie in with ongoing work on the genetic basis of these traits.

If successful, the student would be fully funded for a minimum of 3.5 years, studentships cover: (i) a tax-free stipend at the standard Research Council rate (at least £14,296 per annum for 2017-2018), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees at the UK/EU rate. Studentship(s) are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements. Students from EU countries who do not meet residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award.

This PhD project is part of the NERC funded Doctoral Training Partnership “ACCE” (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment). This is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, York and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. Further information and details of how to apply are here. The closing date is the 9th of January 2017. Interested candidates are also welcome to contact me for further information.

Selection process: Shortlisting will take place as soon as possible after the closing date and may involve an informal interview. The shortlisted applicant will be notified promptly and invited for a formal interview to take place at the University of Sheffield the w/c 13th February 2017.

New students

A warm welcome to the new students joining the lab. Anna Puttick and Thomas Gomersall will be doing their 4th year MBiolSci projects in the lab and Beth Moore, Grace Holland and William Wood are doing their 3rd year undergraduate research projects. Also welcome to Fern Wilkinson, a 2nd year student, who is going to be helping to maintain our butterfly stocks. Thanks Fern!


Heliconius meeting


Thanks to everyone who came to the Heliconius meeting! There were 53 participants in the end (including 3 from Montpellier, who didn’t make it in person because of the strikes, but had a virtual presence through the wonders of teleconferencing). This included representatives from 16 different research organisations spanning 7 countries. It was great to hear about all the work that is going on, across quite a diversity of topics. Download the programme (without last-minute changes) and abstracts  if you missed the talks or want to refresh your memory.

Congratulations to the student talk prize winners:

1st Bruna Cama (University of York) – Genetic analysis of wing pattern and pheromone composition in two sister species of Heliconius butterflies

2nd Paul Jay (CNRS, Montpellier) – Supergene evolution favoured by the introgression of an inversion in Heliconius

The Sheffield weather didn’t do us any favours, but that didn’t stop us sitting out in the beer garden of the Fat Cat on the last night.


Nadeau et al. in Nature

In a study in tomorrow’s Nature we identify the cell cycle gene cortex as controlling major aspects of colour pattern variation in 3 species of Heliconius. A parallel paper out in the same issue identifies the same gene as controlling colour differences in the peppered moth.

While the butterflies use their patterns to deter predators by acting as warnings, the moths use them to camouflage themselves against their background.


The cortex gene is a rapidly evolving member of a conserved family of cell cycle regulators (the fizzy family). We think it is likely controlling the colour of scales on the wing through control of their developmental rate.

These findings are also featured in the Nature Podcast

Free access to the full text here.

Fieldwork in Colombia


We are just back from another short sampling trip in Colombia. This time we were near the town of Bahía Solano, between our previously furthest north sampling location in Colombia and our furthest south location in Panama. Emma’s analysis of the butterflies we collected last time suggests that that is a sharp transition from blue to black wing colour around the border between Colombia and Panama, so getting samples from this region could be key to working out where this transition happens and how sharp it is, as well as finding genes that are associated with the colour.

There are no roads in this area so we did a lot of travelling up and down the coast in a small motor boat. All the logistics were again organised by Carolina and Camilo from the Universidad del Rosario, along with local guides, so we are hugely grateful to them!