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PhD: Comparative phylogenetic studies on insect body size

Project Title

Comparative phylogenetic studies on insect body size


University of Tartu

Supervisors and Institutions

Prof. Toomas Tammaru (University of Tartu) & Dr. John Clarke (Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń). Options to collaborate with Sebastian Höhna (LMU Munich) and Niklas Wahlberg (Lund University).

Funding Status

Funding is in competition with other projects and students

Project Description

We are looking for a PhD student to perform part of a larger, lab wide project entitled: “Comparative studies on insects: a focus on body size" financed by Estonian Research Council (2020-2024) and carried out at Estonia’s leading research centre: the University of Tartu ( The lab wide project focuses on reconstructing moth phylogenies on the basis of DNA sequences and performing various analyses of trait evolution on the basis of these novel phylogenies. The PhD thesis work advertised here will concentrate on body size specifically, and we propose that the student will address questions such as associations between body size and environment, macroevolutionary trends in body size, and inferring constraints on body size. Body size is perhaps the most obvious trait of any organism but the drivers of the evolution of size are far from being understood, especially in insects in which case the universal positive relationship between body size and fecundity would lead to the prediction of a permanent evolutionary increase in size. Most recently, data and methods have started to become available to find out if such increase has actually occurred in the course of evolution, and which factors have set limits to it. The PhD student will primarily be running comparative analyses on pre-existing phylogenetic trees (e.g. using R packages such as OUwie and BAMMtools) and will also participate in data collection (incl. examining museum specimens). The work will be supervised by Prof. Toomas Tammaru ( and Dr. John Clarke ( The group has a solid background in evolutionary ecology of insects, phylogenetic analyses and taxonomy of Lepidoptera, as well as collaboration ties with various universities in Europe (e.g. potential to collaborate with Niklas Wahlberg at Lund University, and Sebastian Höhna at LMU Munich) and North America. PhD studies in Estonia last for 4 years and publishing research papers is a requirement; PhD students receive competitive scholarships allowing them to work on their thesis full time (alongside taking some relevant classes). A successful candidate will have an excellent academic record, experience with statistical analyses and interest in evolutionary biology. Some experience and/or genuine interest in the ecology/evolution/taxonomy of insects as well as previous experience with phylogenetic comparative methods is an advantage. The candidate should have their master’s degree by August 01, 2020 (if you are due to complete in September 2020, still contact us, we may be able to find a solution); the enrolment as a PhD student will be from September 01, 2020. If you are considering applying, please e-mail Toomas Tammaru ( before the end of February 10 (any time zone). Open to applicants from all nations.

Contact Name

Toomas Tammaru

Contact Email

Closing Date

Monday, February 10, 2020

Expiry Date

Monday, February 17, 2020
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