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PhD: The evolution of complexity in tetrapods

Project Title

The evolution of complexity in tetrapods


University of Lincoln

Supervisors and Institutions

Dr Marcello Ruta (School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln), Professor Matthew Wills (Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath)

Funding Status

Funding is in place for this project

Project Description

We seek to appoint a highly motivated and enterprising PhD student to carry out research on the evolution of complexity in tetrapods (limbed vertebrates) as part of a John Templeton Foundation grant entitled “Increasing Complexity: The First Rule of Evolution?”, awarded to the Universities of Bath and Lincoln.

What is biological complexity? How does it evolve?

This project plans to tackle our understanding of evolution, a process often seen as open-ended and of unlimited potential, making it impossible to formulate generalities. However, widespread examples of convergence in Nature suggest predictable patterns, of which the trend towards increasing complexity may be one.

Do trends result from passive diffusion from lower bounds, lineage sorting, or parallel changes in multiple groups and different within-group lineages? How does complexity relate to shape disparity and taxonomic diversity? How are changes in complexity affected by mass extinctions and evolutionary/ecological/environmental transitions?

Our central objective is to test Evolution’s “First Law” – complexity increases over geological time following sustained and directional trends. If demonstrated, such trends will shed new light on the forces that shape biodiversity. The project will investigate changes in skeletal complexity throughout 390 million years of tetrapod evolution.

Training Environment
The student will be based at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences (Joseph Banks Laboratories). The School offers a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, has invested in new equipment and infrastructure, and has strong links with international research centres worldwide. The student will benefit from an interdisciplinary and synergistic research environment and a multicultural student community. They will attend regular progress meetings and receive mentoring and intensive training on experimental design in research, statistical methods, health and safety regulations, and written and oral presentation skills. They will also have access to personal/professional skills development courses through the Doctoral College and University Career Service.

Dr Marcello Ruta: School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln.
Professor Matthew Wills: Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath.

Funding Notes
Applicants: UK; EU; International.
NOTE: Tuition fees (capped at UK/EU level) are covered though the University of Lincoln and the Graduate Teaching Assistantship, requiring the student to conduct up to 6 hours of teaching or related work per week; suitably qualified overseas candidates are required to self-fund the difference between the International and UK/EU fee rate.
Stipend: PhD stipend = £41,250.00 in total; fees = £11,715 in total.
Start Date: 1st October 2019 or immediately thereafter.
Duration: 36 months.
Pending release of funding

Entry Requirements
Mandatory first or higher upper second-class honours degree.
Recommended Master’s degree or equivalent experience in Zoology, Palaeontology, or Evolutionary Biology.
Desirable good experience of writing reports and presenting research to an audience.

Application Documents
Curriculum Vitae.
Cover letter.
Two-page research proposal.
Two letters of support.

All documents and informal enquiries should be e-mailed to:

Closing Date: 09 Sep 2019
Interviews and shortlist: mid September 2019

Adamowicz, S.J. et al. Increasing morphological complexity in multiple parallel lineages of the Crustacea. PNAS 105, 4786-4791 (2008).
Hughes, M. et al. Clades reach highest morphological disparity early in their evolution. PNAS 110, 13875-13879 (2013).
Marcot, J.D., McShea, D.W. Increasing hierarchical complexity throughout the history of life: phylogenetic tests of trend mechanisms. Paleobiology 33, 182-200 (2007).
McShea, D.W. et al. A quantitative formulation of biology’s first law. Evolution, 73, 1101-1115 (2019).
Oyston, J. et al. What limits the morphological disparity of clades. Interface Focus 5, 20150042 (2015).
Ruta, M. et al. Decoupling of morphological disparity and taxic diversity during the adaptive radiation of anomodont therapsids. Proc R Soc B 280, (2013).
Ruta, M. et al. The radiation of cynodonts and the ground plan of mammalian morphological diversity. Proc R Soc B 280, (2013).
Ruta, M. et al. The evolution of the tetrapod humerus: morphometrics, disparity, and evolutionary rates. Earth Environ Sci Trans Roy Soc Edinburgh 109, (2019).
Ruta, M., Wills, M.A. Comparable disparity in the appendicular skeleton across the fish-tetrapod transition, and the morphological gap between fish and tetrapod postcrania. Palaeontology 59, 249-267 (2016).
Wills, M.A. et al. Evolutionary correlates of arthropod tagmosis: scrambled legs. Systemat Assoc Spec Vol 55, 57-65 (1998).

Contact Name

Marcello Ruta

Contact Email

Closing Date

Monday, September 9, 2019

Expiry Date

Monday, September 30, 2019
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