NERC funded PhD position on the genetic basis of adaptation to altitude in Heliconius butterflies

27 October 2023

About the Project

We are seeking an enthusiastic student with interests in genetics, ecology and evolution to work on a project investigating thermal adaptation in tropical Andean butterflies. Understanding organisms’ adaptation to their thermal environment is important for predicting responses to climate change. Tropical insects make up around half of all species on Earth, and yet very little is known about their thermal ecology. Butterflies are one of the best-studied insect groups with respect to thermal adaptation, but relatively little is known about the responses of tropical species to climate change.

The Heliconius butterflies have been extensively studied, with good genomic resources and excellent information on species ranges. Many of the species in the genus are found in and around the Andes and work to date shows variation, both within and between species, in traits related to altitudinal and thermal adaptation. This provides an excellent opportunity to investigate the genetic basis of this variation and to find out how genotypes associated with thermal adaptation vary in space and time.

The project can be tailored to the interests of the student but would include analysing genomic data to identify genetic loci associated with altitudinal and thermal adaptation in Heliconius. This could be followed with examination of the distribution of particular genotypes at these loci across South America in relation to different ecological variables and how these have changed over time. This would make use of the extensive existing samples available for Heliconius in various collections, and the genomic data available for many of these. There would also be the possibility of field work in South America for further sampling or experiments. The student would therefore receive training and gain skills in advanced genomics and bioinformatics as well as a range of other ecological and evolutionary techniques.

Co-supervisors: Prof Jon Slate (School of Biosciences), Prof Jane Hill (University of York, Department of Biology)

About the DTP

This studentship is offered as part of the NERC ACCE DTP. ACCE is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool and York, the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), and the Natural History Museum (NHM), providing doctoral training in the biological components of the natural environment and related disciplines. The ACCE DTP is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, faith or religious belief, pregnancy or maternity, parental or caring responsibilities or career pathway to date. We understand that a student’s potential can be shown in many ways and we strive to recruit students from all backgrounds, and support them on their scientific journey.

We have designed our application systems to identify candidates who are likely to be successful in research, regardless of what opportunities may have been available to them prior to their application.

What is on offer

NERC ACCE DTP programme starts from October 2024.

UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:

Note - UKRI funding only covers UK (Home) fees. The DTP partners have various schemes which allow international students to join the DTP but only be required to pay home fees. Home fees are already covered in the UKRI funding, meaning that successful international candidates do not need to find any additional funding for fees.

Not all projects will be funded; the DTP will appoint a limited number of candidates via a competitive process.

All ACCE PhDs are available as part time or full time, with part time being a minimum of 50% of full time. Please discuss potential part time arrangements with the primary supervisor before applying to the programme. 

How to apply

Notes and details of how to apply are available here:

All applicants to ACCE must complete the ACCE personal statement proforma. This is instead of a personal/supporting statement or cover letter. The proforma is designed to standardise this part of the application to minimise the difference between those who are given support and those who are not. Candidates should also submit a CV and the contact details of 2 referees.

Please view the information here: before submitting your application though the University of Sheffield application system

You will need to describe how your skill set matches the following Essential and Desirable skills for the project.

Essential Skills:

General understanding of ecology, evolution and genetics (undergraduate degree level knowledge)

Basic knowledge of how to organise and analyse data in a scientific context (undergraduate degree level, with some evidence of having analysed scientific data e.g. for a research project)

Basic knowledge of how to find and interpret scientific literature

Desirable Skills:

Experience of analysing genomic data

Experience of analysing range or distribution data, or ecological niche modelling

Application deadline: Monday, January 08, 2024 

Informal enquiries about the application process may be made to