PhD studentship investigating the role of genetic shifts in success of invasive plant species

Rumex crispus. Credit: Stickpen, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Application Date (COB): 
Saturday, 24 June 2017 - 5:00pm

The Bio-Protection Research Centre, Lincoln University, New Zealand is offering a fully funded PhD studentship addressing the contemporary evolution of invasive weeds. This is a fantastic opportunity for a student wanting to bridge the disciplines of ecology and bioinformatics using cutting-edge molecular techniques with real world applications.

The student will become a key member of a national research team undertaking an integrated project examining phenotypic variation, niche shifts and local adaptation in invasive plant species using globally-distributed weeds in the genus Rumex (dock) as a study system.


The PhD project aims to examine the genetic basis of performance differences in invasive plants between the native and introduced range. Applying a range of molecular and genomic technologies, the student will determine the extent of genotypic variation among and within populations of invasive plant species in the native (Europe) and introduced range (New Zealand) and apply experimental approaches to identify the benefits of genetic admixture in plant invasions. There is scope within the research for the successful candidate to explore their own particular interests and the outcomes of other ongoing experiments within the larger project.

Find out more about the project background

Do genetic shifts explain the success of invasive plants species?

There is increasing evidence for the role of genetic shifts and evolution shaping the success of alien plants introduced into new regions. Such shifts can occur as a result of founder effects, genetic bottlenecks and genetic drift. These can lead to reduced genetic diversity in the introduced range. Alternatively, multiple introductions can lead to genetic admixture of previously isolated populations in the native range. Admixtures can lead to enhanced evolutionary potential by increasing the population level genetic variation but also can lead to enhanced performance through the mixing of many genotypes. Several mechanisms have been suggested to explain the success of admixtures:

  • additional genetic variation facilitates adaptation to new environments
  • different genotypes may be complimentary and occupy different niches
  • reduction in inbreeding through outcrossing
  • heterozygote advantage and epistasis where alleles at different loci interact.

As a consequence the ecological amplitude of alien species might be enhanced after population admixture in the new range, especially for species with highly structured native populations. Furthermore, changes in selection pressures, such as the loss of natural enemies leading to the evolution of increased competitive ability, can also lead to genetic shifts in introduced populations.

This PhD project will examine these questions by considering the suitability of a range of different techniques, for e.g. microsatellite markers, genome by sequencing etc. and apply the optimum methodology to address genetic shifts in three weed species: Rumex obtusifolius, R. crispus, and R. conglomeratus. Research will include the analysis of samples drawn from the native and invaded range as well as experiments comparing the performance between and within-populations crosses for each range (native, introduced) under different ecologically relevant conditions.

Research will form part of a larger five-year programme examining contemporary evolution in Rumex spp. The successful candidate will benefit from working as part of a team with two PhD students and one postdoctoral fellow.

We offer

The scholarship provides an annual stipend of NZD$28,000 a year tax- free, covers full university fees and approximately NZD$10,000 additional support a year towards operating expenses. The duration of the scholarship is three years. The successful candidate will be based at Lincoln University, Canterbury, New Zealand.


Applicants for this project should hold a first class or high 2A honours degree, or equivalent, in a relevant area, preferably with interest in population genetics, molecular ecology and/or bioinformatics and a desire to combine both field and laboratory analyses. The position is open to applicants of any nationality, provided they are fluent in English, able to obtain a student visa and eligible for admission to the PhD program at Lincoln University, New Zealand.

To apply

Applications should include evidence of qualifications and research experience, together with a curriculum vitae and contact details of three academic referees. Applications should be supported by a cover letter that states why the candidate is interested in the PhD project and how their qualifications would map onto the proposed research.

Please email complete applications to Professor Philip Hulme

Deadline for applications is 24 June 2017, with an expected start date prior to 1 December 2017.