[MARMAM] PhD positions available (genomics, dolphins, Shark Bay - University of Zurich)

Simon Allen S.Allen at murdoch.edu.au
Mon Jan 27 23:10:44 PST 2014

G'day folks,

Apologies for any cross-postings, but please see the notification below:

Two 3-year PhD positions on dolphin genomics available at the University of Zurich

Overview: I am seeking two highly motivated PhD students for my recently funded project “Male career moves – the genomics of cooperative behaviour and alliance formation in male bottlenose dolphins” at the Evolutionary Genetics Groups of the Anthropological Institute and Museum, University of Zurich (UZH), Switzerland (https://www.uzh.ch/cmsssl/anthro/Research/egg-3.html). My group has broad interests in evolutionary genetics and genomics of primates and delphinids. The work will be conducted in close collaboration with Prof. Richard Connor at the University of Massachusetts - Dartmouth, Simon Allen of Murdoch University, Australia, and Prof. Bill Sherwin at the University of New South Wales, Australia. The work will entail a combination of genomic laboratory work at UZH and fieldwork in Shark Bay, Western Australia. Both positions are for 3 years. Remuneration is according to Swiss PhD salary scales (CHF 48’540 p.a. plus employer social security contributions). Both candidates are expected to spend at least 4 months/year in the field. Start date will be 1st May 2014.

Background: Helping, defined as actions or traits that will benefit other individuals, provides one of the most fascinating conundrums in evolutionary biology. Cooperation is not uncommon in nature. It occurs on all levels of biological organization, from organelles and cells, to individuals or groups of the same species, and even between individuals of different species. Yet, how can helping evolve and be maintained when it seems to be prone to exploitation by either free-riding or defecting individuals? Ever since Hamilton’s seminal work on kin selection, genetic relatedness has been recognized as a critical variable necessary for the full understanding of the evolutionary basis of any social phenomenon. Relatedness is important, because individuals can increase their ‘inclusive’ fitness by assisting their relatives’ reproduction thereby increasing the transmission success of the individual’s own alleles by descent.

One of the most striking examples of cooperation is found in the Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins of Shark Bay, Western Australia, where male dolphins cooperate in pairs and trios (’1st order alliances’) to form ‘consortships’ with individual females for the purpose of gaining exclusive mating access. This research will capitalize on an extremely well-studied, cooperative society, consisting of long-term behavioural, genetic and spatial datasets. We will employ a large-scale RAD-tag approach in order to characterise and score tens of thousands of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in each dolphin. Based on the SNP data, relatedness will be estimated and pedigrees will be reconstructed to unprecedented levels of precision and accuracy. Y-chromosomal markers, using next-generation sequencing techniques, will be developed in order to increase our ability to find paternal relatives.

This research will enable far-reaching inferences about genetic factors in the formation and maintenance of one of the most complex mammalian societies known. Knowledge of any genetic correlates of these behaviours will offer powerful comparative data for our own species and others, opening many further fields of research. The potential convergence with human alliances and implications for the social complexity hypothesis means that the results will be of great interest to a diverse audience of biologists, cognitive psychologists, anthropologists, and political scientists.

Requirements: Successful candidates will have a Diploma/Masters degree in a relevant discipline, strong bioinformatic, genomic and genetic skills, some background in evolutionary genetics and experience with fieldwork on marine mammals or primates. For field work, a valid driver’s licence and a restricted coxswains ticket are essential (the latter can be obtained in a one-week course in Perth prior to fieldwork). The ideal candidates will have strong oral and written communication skills in English and the ability to work and share ideas in a collaborative environment. Knowledge of German language is not essential, but may help with everyday life whilst in Zurich.

The students will work in a dynamic research environment and have access to cutting edge next generation sequencing techniques, a behavioural database spanning 30+ years and biopsy samples from over 700 individuals. The Anthropological Institute and others at UZH host several seminar series with high-calibre international speakers. The two PhD positions will be embedded in the Zurich Life Science Graduate School's program in Evolutionary Biology (http://www.lifescience-graduateschool.ch/).

Applications: Interested students should send their application package to michael.kruetzen at aim.uzh.ch<mailto:michael.kruetzen at aim.uzh.ch> before 28th February 2014. The package must include, in one PDF file:

  1.  A cover letter expressing research interests relevant to the position,
  2.  A complete CV, and,
  3.  Reference letters of two academic referees.

Please also attach low-resolution copies of your official academic transcripts and degrees, as well as copies of any publications and Diploma/MSc theses.

Informal enquiries can be addressed to:

Dr Michael Krützen

Anthropological Institute & Museum

University of Zurich

Winterthurerstr. 190

CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland

Email: michael.kruetzen at aim.uzh.ch<mailto:michael.kruetzen at aim.uzh.ch>
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