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PhD: Function, ecology and macroevolution of the mammalian masticatory system

Project Title

Function, ecology and macroevolution of the mammalian masticatory system


University of Liverpool

Supervisors and Institutions

Dr Karl Bates, University of Liverpool Dr Phil Cox, University of York Dr James Gardiner, University of Liverpool

Funding Status

Funding is in competition with other projects and students

Project Description

The masticatory apparatus of mammals is a model system for understanding how ecological and environmental factors interact with anatomy and physiology to shape phenotypic diversity. However, most studies have focused exclusively on macroevolutionary patterns in bony morphology and its relationship to shifts in trophic ecology. Relatively few studies have simultaneously assessed patterns of disparity and convergence in muscle morphology and function, thereby limiting our understanding of adaptations and constraints in the masticatory system.

The aim of this project is to carry out an integrated analysis of hard (bone) and soft tissue (muscle) evolution in the mammalian masticatory to determine the relative nature and timing of adaptive changes in these tissues across evolutionary shifts in dietary ecology. Using a combination of dissection, medical image data, geometric morphometrics and phylogenetic comparative methods the student will assess patterns of skull shape and muscle evolution across a taxonomically and ecologically diverse range of extant and extinct mammals. Based on these data, a combination of detailed species-specific and more generalised ‘parametric’ biomechanical models will then be used to generate estimates of mechanical performance (efficiency, maximal force etc.) for the masticatory system. These performance metrics will then be mapped on to an ‘evolutionary landscape’ to analyse the relationship between ‘morphospace’ and ‘function space’ in the mammalian masticatory system.

The ideal student would have a keen interest or background in zoology/palaeontology and skills in morphometrics, mechanical and/or 3D digital techniques and/or evolutionary modelling, but training will be provided in all techniques to be used. The student will be based primarily with Dr Bates in the Evolutionary Morphology & Biomechanics Group at Liverpool but interact regularly with Dr Cox and the Centre for Anatomical and Human Sciences at York.

Notes and how to apply are available here:

Informal enquiries may be made to

Funding Notes
NERC ACCE DTP in Ecology and Evolution, programme starts October 2022.
UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:
• Stipend (2021/21 UKRI rate £15,609)
• Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2021/22 rate £4,500)
• Research support and training grant (RTSG)
Note - UKRI funding only covers UK (Home) fees (£4,500 at 2021/22 rate). A limited number of international fee bursaries will be awarded on a competitive basis. However, if selected International and EU fee rate candidates may need to cover the remaining amount of tuition fees by securing additional funding. International fees for 2020/21 entry were £24,250 per annum.

Contact Name

Karl Bates

Contact Email

Link to More Information

Closing Date

Friday, January 14, 2022

Expiry Date

Friday, January 14, 2022
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