Research Experience Placements – Projects

Main Supervisor:

Julia Day

GEE, UCL

Macroevolutionary dynamics of a massive freshwater fish radiation

Integrative studies, combining phylogenetic trees with functional trait data i.e., morphological and ecological characteristics influencing organismal fitness, has proven a powerful tool for inferring large scale biodiversity patterns and processes on our planet. However, such data are especially sparse for freshwater organisms at continental scales. To address this deficit, this project will focus on the hyper-diverse Siluriformes [catfishes]. Of the 60,000 extant vertebrate species, 1 in 16 is a catfish, and as such they represent one of the most significant freshwater groups on Earth. Despite their vast species and morphological diversity, catfishes remain rather neglected from a macroevolutionary perspective, and little is known about their morphological diversification over space and time. While it is unfeasible here to examine all catfishes, this project aims to provide insight into the morphological diversification of African lineages, which have colonised the continent on separate occasions and subsequently diversified to varying degrees.

To explore the tempo and mode of diversification of key global catfish lineage, this project will harness the world-class NHM’s collections. The acquisition of trait data will feed into a global catfish trait database [host labs], which will be combined with an unpublished dated phylogeny focusing on African taxa using a comparative approach. We will test for a signal of adaptive radiation, or if evolution is better modelled via selective peaks. As convergence of traits between distinct groups is a powerful evolutionary force, the project will also seek to test if observed morphological similarity is via convergent evolution or common descent.

Candidates applying for this project should demonstrate an interest in Zoology, and a familiarity with R would be useful. The successful candidate would be required in person for the duration of the project and would be based at the NHM for 70% of the time, and 30% at UCL.


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