Category Archives: Opportunities

NERC funded PhD position on the role of butterfly wing scales in thermoregulation

We are seeking an enthusiastic student with interests in ecology and evolution to work on a project investigating the evolution of wing scale nanostructures and thermal adaptation in tropical Andean butterflies. The wings of butterflies are covered in thousands of scales that have evolved to serve a range of functions including aerodynamic efficiency, colour signalling, camouflage, hydrophobicity and thermoregulation. Fundamental to these functions is the nanostructure of the scales.

Interest in organisms’ adaptation to their thermal environment has grown in recent years as we try to understand and predict how organisms will respond to climate change. Butterflies are one of the best-studied insect groups with respect to thermal adaptation. While the importance of the wings for thermoregulation has been known for some time, only recently has the importance of the wing scale nanostructures begun to be appreciated.

The project can be tailored to the interests of the student but would likely include working with museum collections of butterflies at the Natural History Museum (under the supervision of Dr Huertas), using cutting-edge techniques for measuring scale nanostructure (under the supervision of Dr Parnell) and computational analysis to investigate ecological correlates of wing scale nanostructure (under the supervision of Dr Thomas). It could also involve fieldwork in South America to obtain further butterfly specimens, ecological data and/or test hypotheses about thermal adaptation. This project builds on recent work in Dr Nadeau’s research group investigating the evolution, genetics and development of butterfly wing scale nanostructures and thermal adaptation in tropical Andean butterflies. The outcomes of this project could have applications in the design of nanomaterials to improve the thermal efficiency of man-made structures such as windows and solar panels.

Application process

Informal enquiries are welcome. Contact Nicola Nadeau.

Follow the instructions to apply online here

ACCE NERC DTP in Ecology and Evolution, programme starting October 2022.

UKRI provide funding for 3.5 years
The studentships are open to UK and international/EU applicants

Not all projects will be funded; the DTP will appoint a limited number of candidates via a competitive process.

Two postdoc positions on the genetics of convergence

We are looking for two postdoctoral research associates to work on a NERC-funded project “The genetic basis of convergence across evolutionary time” led by Dr Kanchon Dasmahapatra at the University of York and Dr Nicola Nadeau at the University of Sheffield.

This project seeks to understand how the genetics of convergent evolution differs with differing evolutionary timescales. We will determine whether the genetic mechanism of convergence (collateral evolution, parallel evolution and divergent genetic mechanisms) depends on the relatedness of the species, the effect size of the loci involved and/or conservation of the genetic pathways controlling the phenotype. In South America there are mimicry rings in which many defended species converge on near identical colour patterns. This project will investigate the genetic basis of convergent mimicry in wing patterns among 18 species of butterflies and moths, which include the well-studied Heliconius butterflies. This is a unique system in the Lepidoptera in which we know that some recently diverged lineages have converged in defensive colouration by collateral evolution, whereas other clades have achieved similar phenotypes despite diverging over 100 million years ago. This provides an ideal model system in which to explore the likelihood of different mechanisms of convergence among lineages at a range of evolutionary timescales.

One of the PDRAs will be based in Sheffield, supervised by Nicola Nadeau. This postdoc will lead the bioinformatic analysis of population genomic and gene expression data sets to identify genes controlling within-species colour-pattern variation in multiple species of ithomiine butterflies and Chetone day-flying moths.

For more information and to apply for this post click here.

Closing date: 29th September 2021. Start Date: 1st November 2021 (negotiable).

The second PDRA will be employed by the University of York and supervised by Kanchon Dasmahapatra. This postdoc will work in Peru and Ecuador (with our partner, Caroline Baquet, at IKIAM University), collecting samples, breeding stocks of these species and assessing gene expression in situ. This position will be advertised shortly, to start in April 2022.

Recruiting: 3-year part-time research technician

We are recruiting a 40% FTE (14hrs/week) Research Technician on our newly funded Human Frontier Science Program grant investigating the genetics and biomechanics of butterfly wing scale development. This international and interdisciplinary project brings together expertise in physics and materials science with genetics and developmental biology to understand how intricately patterned nanostructures form on butterfly wings during development. An essential part of this project, which the technician would have primary responsibility for, is the maintenance of the butterfly stocks and the plants that they feed on at the University of Sheffield.

Primarily, the technician will be responsible for day-to-day maintenance of stocks of the butterfly Heliconius sara and their Passiflora host plants, and other butterfly species such as Vanessa cardui (the painted lady). They will also be responsible for coordinating others to assist with the necessary day-to-day maintenance tasks. The position may also involve some molecular laboratory tasks such as preparing solutions, dissecting, fixing, staining and imaging developing butterfly wings and preparing protein and RNA extracts. Although a 12-month position in the first instance, the research grant is for three years, and the technician’s contract would likely be renewed for the duration of the grant. We ideally want someone interested in staying for the full 3-year duration.

Applicants should have experience in and an enthusiasm for working with insects and plants, with good organisational and problem-solving skills. Previous experience working in a laboratory environment is also essential.

For further information and to apply click here

Closing date: 13 September 2021. Start date: 1 October 2021 (or as soon as possible thereafter)

NERC funded PhD position on temperature adaptation in Heliconius

We are seeking an enthusiastic student with interests in ecology, evolution and genetics to work on a project investigating thermal adaptation in tropical Andean butterflies. Understanding organisms’ adaptation to their thermal environment is important for predicting responses to climate change. Tropical insects make up around half of all species on Earth, and yet very little is known about their thermal ecology. Butterflies are one of the best-studied insect groups concerning thermal adaptation, but relatively little is known about the responses of tropical species to climate change.

The Heliconius butterflies have been extensively studied, and there is good information about the distributions of species in this genus, but very little is known about what determines species ranges (e.g. temperature versus rainfall), or how ranges have shifted. Many of the species in the genus are found in and around the Andes, and it seems likely that thermal adaptation plays a role in delimiting niches in this area, and in driving distributions to shift uphill, but this has not previously been investigated. Excellent genomic resources are available for Heliconius, which have been used to investigate genes underlying adaptation and speciation. This provides the opportunity to investigate thermal adaptation in this group at multiple levels, from genes to populations, species and communities, to investigate and predict responses to climate change.

The project can be tailored to the interests of the student but could include a combination of field work, physiological and genetic laboratory work, computational analysis including analysis of genomic data and species distribution modelling, and working with historical collections and records. Key questions that could be addressed include: understanding how temperature affects survival, growth and fecundity of Heliconius species found at different elevations across the Andes; if and how these parameters relate to species distributions and range limits; if and how species ranges are changing or could change in response to habitat and climate change; the genetic basis of thermal adaptation and whether genetic changes have occurred or are they likely to occur in response to climate change.

This PhD will be linked to a newly funded NERC grant exploring variation in thermal adaptation across altitudinal gradients in Heliconius and the genetic basis of this. This collaborative project is led by Dr Nadeau in Sheffield, with Prof. Jiggins in Cambridge, Dr Saastamoinen in Helsinki and Dr Bacquet at the Amazonian Regional University, IKIAM, in Ecuador. The PhD student will expand this work to understand the implications for species distributions and climate change, with guidance from co-supervisor Prof. Hill in York.

Application deadline: Wednesday 9th January, 2019

Apply via the online application system

  • Select ‘Standard PhD’ and ‘Animal and Plant Sciences (APS)’ as the department
  • Fill in the Title of the project (‘Understanding temperature adaptation in tropical Andean butterflies’) and the name(s) of the supervisors (‘Dr Nicola Nadeau and Prof. Jane Hill’).
  • ‘Study term,’ can be full-time or part-time
  • The starting date of PhD will be the start of the next academic year- 1 Oct 2019
  • Funding stage‘ on the form will be ‘project studentship

Contact Nicola Nadeau for informal enquiries and further information.

Funding Notes

Fully funded studentships cover: (i) a stipend at the UKRI rate (at least £14,777 per annum for 2019-2020), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees. Studentship(s) are available to UK and EU students who have been living in the UK for the last three years immediately before the start of the studentship. EU nationals who do not meet the residency requirement are still eligible for ‘fees only award’, which covers fees and a research grant (RTSG), but no stipend.
This PhD project is part of the NERC funded Doctoral Training Partnership “ACCE” (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment). ACCE is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, York, CEH, and NHM.
Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview to take place at the University of Sheffield the w/c 11th February 2019.

Further reading

Nadeau NJ et al. 2014 Population genomics of parallel hybrid zones in the mimetic butterflies, H. Melpomene and H. erato. Genome Res. 24, 1316–1333. DOI:10.1101/gr.169292.113
Scriven SA, Beale CM, Benedick S, Hill JK. 2017 Barriers to dispersal of rain forest butterflies in tropical agricultural landscapes. Biotropica 49, 206–216. DOI:10.1111/btp.12397
Rosser N, Phillimore AB, Huertas B, Willmott KR, Mallet J. 2012 Testing historical explanations for gradients in species richness in heliconiine butterflies of tropical America. Biol. J. Linn. Soc. 105, 479–497. DOI:10.1111/j.1095-8312.2011.01814.x

Postdoc and research assistant positions on new NERC funded project

We have recently been awarded a NERC grant to investigate adaptation to altitude in Heliconius butterflies. The project is in collaboration with Chris Jiggins at the University of Cambridge, Marjo Saastamoinen at the University of Helsinki and Caroline Bacquet at IKIAM University in Ecuador.

We are currently advertising two positions on this grant:

A 3-year postdoc position. This will It will involve intensive rearing and phenotyping of butterflies to characterize both inter- and intra-specific differences in thermal adaptation at different altitudes in the Andes. This will be followed by generation and analysis of high-throughput genomic data to identify underlying genetic differences. The rearing and phenotyping will be conducted in Ecuador, therefore you will be expected to spend significant amounts of time working in Ecuador with partner organisations. You will have a strong commitment to evolutionary research with skills in at least one of:
analysis of large genomic data sets; analysis of quantitative trait variation; or insect ecophysiology. Being able to communicate in Spanish would also be an advantage.You will hold a PhD or equivalent experience in evolutionary biology and will have experience of research in evolutionary genetics and analysing large data sets.

Apply here.

A 2-year graduate research assistant position. This will involve assisting the postdoc, primarily with rearing and phenotyping of butterflies to characterize both inter- and intraspecific differences in thermal adaptation at different altitudes in the Andes. The rearing and phenotyping will be conducted in Ecuador, therefore you will be expected to spend significant amounts of time working in Ecuador. You will have an interest and enthusiasm for evolutionary research with good attention to detail and experience of accurate collection and handling of data. You will have a good honours degree or equivalent experience in a biological discipline and experience of recording and checking numerical data in a research context. You will have an enthusiasm for evolutionary/ ecological/ entomological research and experience of rearing insects. Being able to communicate in Spanish would also be an advantage.

Apply here.

The closing date for applications for both positions is the 18th of June 2018. The starting dates for both positions are around the 1st of September 2018, but there may be some flexibility. Contact Nicola for further information or informal enquiries about either position.

Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship Competition

Interested in applying for independent funding to come and work on structural colour evolution, genetics or development (or anything aligned to our research interests)?

The Leverhulme Trust annually supports a number of Early Career Fellowships (https://www.leverhulme.ac.uk/funding/grant-schemes/early-career-fellowships).

The 2018 round opens on 1 January 2018. The closing date for applications is 1 March 2018

The scheme is aimed at those who are at a relatively early stage of their academic careers but with a proven record of research.  Applications are invited from those with a doctorate who had their doctoral viva not more than four years from the application closing date. Hence those who had their viva before 1 March 2014 are not eligible unless they have since had a career break.

The Trust will contribute 50% of each Fellow’s total salary costs up to a maximum of £25,000 per annum with the balance to be paid by the host institution. Each fellow may also request annual research expenses of up to £6,000 to further their research activities. Due to the financial commitment that the University has to make, there will be an internal competition to identify applicants whom the department/faculty will support.

The internal deadline for APS applications is 5pm Friday 1st December.

Each dept in the Faculty of Science can submit 1 person to Faculty for potential support. The Faculty will then select which candidate(s) to support. So, there is a three-step process (a) selection by APS followed by (b) selection by Faculty (c) submitting application to the leverhulme.

If you are interested in apply for one of these to come and work with me please get in touch! I would be particularly interested in anyone with an interest in working on the evolution, genetics or development of structural colours, but could support any candidates with a strong CV and interests that overlap with mine.

NERC funded PhD opportunity

We are seeking an enthusiastic student with interests in evolution, developmental biology and/or biophysics to work on a project investigating the developmental mechanisms controlling iridescent structural colouration in Heliconius butterflies. Iridescent colour in these butterflies is produced by coherent scattering of light by sub-micron scale structures. Structural colours are some of the brightest and most impressive in nature, yet almost nothing is known about how these very precise structures are controlled during the development of the butterfly wing scale.

The Heliconius butterflies are an excellent system to investigate this process because they are very diverse in their wing colours and patterns, including a small number of species that exhibit iridescent blue/green. Comparing developmental processes between butterflies with and without iridescence can help us to understand how iridescence is produced and the evolutionary changes involved. The project would build on genetic work being done in the lab, identifying genes controlling differences in iridescence, by investigating how these genes control scale structure formation.

The project can be tailored to the interests of the student but could include a range of cutting-edge techniques including fluorescence confocal microscopy, super-resolution microscopy, electron microscopy, small-angle x-ray scattering and CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing. It could also involve bioinformatic analysis of high-throughput sequence data, to investigate gene expression.

iridescent Heliconius wing scales

Contact Nicola for further information about the project.

The project is co-supervised by Gareth Fraser and Andrew Parnell.

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 £14,553 per annum for 2018-2019), (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), a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, York and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
Selection process: Shortlisting will take place as soon as possible after the closing date, and successful applicants will be notified promptly. Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview to take place at the University of Sheffield the w/c 12th February 2018.

Apply here. Deadline: Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships

There is currently an open call for Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships (Deadline 14th September 2017). Please get in touch with Nicola if you are interested in applying for one of these to come and join the group. Eligible candidates are post-doctoral researchers wanting to move to the UK from another country (either inside or outside Europe). I would be particularly interested in post-docs with experience in evolutionary developmental biology who are interested in working on structural colour, but feel free to get in touch if you have any interests that you feel overlap with mine.

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.

DSCF0681

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.