Evolution of asynchronous senescence in natural populations

Supervisors: Jacob A Moorad, Daniel H Nussey

Project description:

Senescence, or ageing, appears to be universal across nearly all known forms of life. Whilst it is most dramatically manifested as an increase in mortality risk with advancing age, it is also exhibited in many and diverse traits affecting reproduction, behaviour, and physiology. However, whilst evolutionary theory successfully explains why senescence should occur, fundamental gaps exist in our conceptual understanding of why some traits senescence faster than others. This gap in our understanding is compounded by the lack of high quality within-population comparative studies of ageing across traits.

This project will contribute to resolving this deficiency by combining the development of new evolutionary theory and analyses of existing data from wild animal population. The specific studies will be tailored to the skills and interests of the student, but they will likely include significant components of mathematical modelling, quantitative genetics, life history theory, evolutionary ecology, and demography.

The successful applicant will need to demonstrate a history of quantitative training or experience, however we are quite flexible as to the nature of this experience. Furthermore, we emphasize that an evolutionary, or even a biological, background is not required so long as the applicant is interested in developing skills to address evolutionary questions.

The successful applicant will based at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IEB) within the School of Biological Science at the University of Edinburgh.  IEB is comprised of an unusually large and dynamic group of researchers, many of whom study ageing and life history evolution. Edinburgh, and IEB in particular, is home to an exceptionally rich and diverse quantitative genetics community, and the student will be extremely well placed to develop the relevant skills to successful complete this PhD project and to begin a career in quantitative biology.  Interested candidates are encouraged to contact Dr Jacob Moorad with informal enquiries.

Relevant reading:

Hayward, AD, JA Moorad, CE Regan, C Berenos, JG Pilkington, JM Pemberton, and DH Nussey. 2015. Asynchrony of senescence among phenotypic traits in a wild animal population. Experimental Gerontology 71:56-68.

Moorad, JA and DH Nussey. 2016. Evolution of maternal effect senescence. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113(2):362-367.

Nussey, DH, LE Kruuk, A Morris, MN Clements, JM Pemberton, and TH Clutton-Brock. 2009. Inter- and intrasexual variation in aging patterns across reproductive traits in a wild red deer population. American Naturalist 174(3):342-57.