Four PhD positions in Evolutionary Physiology

Multiple PhD positions are currently available to work on projects related to the evolution of physiological traits – particularly body size, metabolic rate, and water loss. The majority of our experimental work is undertaken with insects – usually Drosophila or cockroaches Nauphoeta cinerea – but we also have interests in plants and vertebrates. We usually combine experimental work with quantitative meta-analyses of the published literature.

Candidates with experience in physiological ecology and evolutionary biology are encouraged to apply. There are opportunities to design projects that focus on any of the broad themes described below, with a starting date any time during 2020. Interested candidates should send their academic transcript, along with a cover letter outlining their research interests and motivation, to craig.white@monash.edu.

Theme 1: The evolution of size and energy expenditure: The relationship between metabolic rate and body mass is strong, but the shape of the relationship has been strongly debated for years. We recently proposed that selection has shaped this relationship, favouring smaller animals with relatively high mass-specific rates of energy expenditure and larger animals with relatively low mass-specific rates of energy expenditure. Using high-throughput metabolic phenotyping, it is now possible to test these ideas experimentally.

Theme 2: The relationship between metabolism and ecology: Many classic studies suggest that there should be strong links between individual rates of energy turnover and the characteristics of populations, communities, and ecosystems. Yet manipulative experimental tests of these predictions are extremely rare. Our high-throughput metabolic phenotyping suite provides us the opportunity to use artificial selection to alter metabolic rates, and directly test the consequences of such manipulations.

Theme 3: Insect breathing and water loss: Although much of the research examining water loss in insects has focussed on respiratory water loss, particularly in the context of discontinuous gas exchange, most insects actually lose more water through their cuticle than their respiratory system. Our cockroach model provides a great opportunity to understand the phenotypic and genetic correlations between respiratory and cuticular water loss, to determine how selection might shape overall patterns of water loss in insects.

Theme 4: Growth and metabolic rate: Recent work has shown that fasted animals still allocate energy to growth; the ongoing costs of growth may therefore influence the relationship between metabolic rate and body mass during ontogeny. Ambient hypoxia slows growth in our cockroach model, and artificial selection and pharmaceutical agents can be used to change metabolic rate. These manipulations can be exploited to examine the interaction between growth rate, body mass, and metabolic rate during ontogenetic growth.

Scholarship details

The PhD projects are all fully-funded for a period of 3.5 years and are open to both Australian/NZ domestic and international students who have completed a MSc or Honours degree. A stipend (living-allowance) scholarship of ~$28,000 per annum is provided tax-free (the equivalent of approx. $33,000 before tax) with no teaching requirements for 3.5 years (the length of a PhD in Australia). We also offer travel and establishment allowances to help in your move and our tuition scholarships cover the cost of tuition fees (normally $38,900 per year). Guaranteed funding of project costs and research support is also included.