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PhD: Evolution of unique cranial morphology and function in lagomorphs: a combined effect of locomotion and mastication?

Project Title

Evolution of unique cranial morphology and function in lagomorphs: a combined effect of locomotion and mastication?


University of Liverpool

Supervisors and Institutions

Dr Alana Sharp (University of Liverpool), Dr Nathan Jeffery (University of Liverpool), Dr Phil Cox (University of York)

Funding Status

Funding is in competition with other projects and students

Project Description

Mammals have evolved diverse craniofacial morphology to adapt to a wide range of ecological niches. However, the factors driving this evolution of different morphologies and functions, and the mechanisms of evolutionary change are not fully understood.

Rabbits and hares (lagomorphs) are unique among mammals for having a joint within the cranium that provides movement, rather than having a completely rigid skull. This movement, or cranial kinesis, is common in vertebrates such as reptiles, but has not evolved in any other mammals, so its evolution and function is not well understood. Early studies have suggested that cranial kinesis in rabbits functions as a shock-absorbing mechanism to dissipate kinetic energy during impacts associated with fast running. However, this has not been tested. In this project, the student will take an evolutionary comparative approach to explore how the biomechanics, ecology, and environmental factors influence the evolution of lagomorph skull shape and function, through the application of sophisticated computational methods such as finite element analysis, biplanar x-ray videography and geometric morphometrics.

This project would be ideal for a student with a background in zoology, anatomy, palaeontology or biomechanics. Prior experience with geometric morphometrics and/or biomechanical simulation would be a bonus, but is not essential as training will be provided during the course of the PhD. The supervisory team includes expertise in functional morphology, biomechanics, imaging and ecology. The student will be based with the principal supervisor, Dr Alana Sharp, in the Evolutionary Morphology and Biomechanics group at the University of Liverpool. Co-supervision will be provided by Dr Nathan Jeffery (University of Liverpool) and Dr Phil Cox (University of York).

The Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease is fully committed to promoting gender equality in all activities. In recruitment we emphasize the supportive nature of the working environment and the flexible family support that the University provides. The Institute holds a silver Athena SWAN award in recognition of on-going commitment to ensuring that the Athena SWAN principles are embedded in its activities and strategic initiatives.

Competitive funding of tuition fee, research costs and stipend (£15,009 tax-free, 2019-20) from the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership “Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment” (ACCE, View Website). ACCE – a collaboration between the Universities of Liverpool, Sheffield, and York – is the only dedicated ecology/evolution/conservation Doctoral Training Partnership in the UK.

Please direct any enquiries to Dr Alana Sharp at To apply please send your CV, letter of application, and the contact details of 2 referees by email to Dr Alana Sharp at, with a copy to, by January 8th 2020.

Expected interview date/week
Initial interviews will take place during the week commencing 14th January 2020. Shortlisted candidates may then be interviewed by the ACCE panel during or after the week commencing 10th February 2020.

Contact Name

Alana Sharp

Contact Email

Closing Date

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Expiry Date

Wednesday, January 8, 2020
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