Hybridisation, speciation and genetic structure in a woodland specialist

Supervisor:  Dr Elva Robinson

Co-supervisor: Dr Joan Cottrell (Forest Research) Dr Kanchon Dasmahapatra Dr Kevin Watts (Forest Research)

Project description:

Britain’s forests offer key habitat for woodland species; however, maintaining biodiversity under the demands of timber production can be challenging. The highly fragmented nature of British woodlands is a further challenge because fragmentation leads to isolation, usually reducing genetic diversity of woodland dwelling species, particularly in species with poor dispersal abilities and exacting habitat requirements such as wood ants (Formica rufa group). These species, threatened across Europe, are key components of woodland ecosystems and offer an ideal study system to explore the impact of habitat fragmentation on genetic diversity of a woodland species.

This study will clarify the conservation status of a genetically unusual wood ant population in the North York Moors (NYM) and will use wood ants to study how dispersal and habitat fragmentation influence the formation of hybrids and new species. We will do this by comparing the genetic diversity of the NYM population to samples from across the UK and Eurasia. The data will explain what creates the unusually high diversity in the NYM and allow investigation of how wood ants spread and diversified at the continental scale after the last glacial period.

Research team
The collaboration involves the University of York, CASE partner Forest Research, and a project partner (University of Helsinki). The supervisory team provide a range of skills, including genetic techniques, fieldwork skills, landscape analysis, and expertise in forest management and invertebrate ecology/evolution. This combination offers a challenging and well-supported training environment and enables the student to acquire a diverse skill-set with excellent employment prospects.

The results of our research will set the NYM wood ant population in its broader European context which will inform foresters, including Forestry Commission practitioners, and DEFRA policy-makers, in the development of appropriate management strategies for the conservation and promotion of this key woodland species group.

Funding:  This is a NERC Industrial CASE studentship fully funded for 4 years and covers: (i) a tax-free stipend at the standard Research Council rate (£14,296 for 2016-2017, to be confirmed for 2017-2018), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees at the UK/EU rate. 

Start date: October 2017

The studentship is available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements. 

To discuss your suitability for this project please email: elva.robinson@york.ac.uk

Please read the 'How to apply' tab before submitting your application.

CLOSING DATE FOR APPLICATIONS:  23h59min on Sunday 22nd January 2017