[Taxacom] PhD Position: Speciation on Lord Howe Island

William Baker W.Baker at rbgkew.org.uk
Thu Sep 6 10:01:17 CDT 2007


PhD Studentship – Imperial College London
Location: Imperial College at Silwood Park Campus, Ascot
Eligibility: See NERC eligibility (restricted to UK residents/citizens) 
Supervision: Dr Vincent Savolainen (Imperial College London & Royal 
Botanic Gardens, Kew), in collaboration with Dr Bill Baker (Royal Botanic 
Gardens, Kew), Dr Tim Barraclough (Imperial College), Dr Darren Crayn 
(Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney), and Mr Ian Hutton (Lord Howe Island)

The origin of species diversity has challenged biologists for over two 
centuries. Charles Darwin recognized that allopatry, species divergence 
resulting from geographical isolation, is a driving force of speciation, but 
he also thought populations could diverge into separate species in the 
absence of geographical isolation, a mechanism now called sympatric 
speciation. Last year, Savolainen and colleagues provided complete 
evidence for sympatric speciation in a case study of two species of palm 
(Howea) on a remote oceanic island, Lord Howe Island (LHI), Australia 
(Savolainen & al. 2006. Sympatric speciation in palms on an oceanic 
island. Nature 441: 210-2133). Nature’s own coverage of this paper 
claimed that “[Lord Howe] Island hosts double boost for evolutionary 
theory” and that experts say “the big question now is whether sympatric 
speciation is widespread or rare”. Here the investigation will be 
broadened to other vascular plants of LHI with the aim to evaluate 
whether this evolutionary phenomenon is more common than previously 
thought. LHI is a minute subtropical island of less than 12 km2, situated 
580 km off the eastern coast of Australia. The island was formed by 
volcanic activity 6.4-6.9 my ago. LHI and thus it is an ideal site on which 
to test the four criteria for sympatric speciation: 1) species sympatry, 2) 
sister relationships, 3) reproductive isolation, and 4) that an earlier 
allopatric phase is highly unlikely. Numerous plant genera, like Howea, 
are represented by more than one endemic species on the island, which 
may well be products of sympatric speciation. The student will look at 
new pairs/groups of endemics: (i) The student will combine existing DNA 
sequence data from GenBank with new data collected and produced 
during the project to reconstruct evolutionary relationships for five 
pairs/groups of endemic taxa. (ii) During fieldwork, the student will also 
document species sympatry and habitat variables at a fine scale.
(iii) The signature of the modes of speciation will be studied with AFLP 
genome scans 

To apply: Please send a letter of motivation, full CV and contact details 
of two referees – as a single pdf file – to v.savolainen at kew.org asap. For 
informal enquiries, please email VS or call on 020 8332 5366. We intend to 
hire a student as soon as possible.

William J. Baker PhD
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Richmond, Surrey, TW9 3AE, UK
Tel: 020 8332 5224, Fax: 020 8332 5278

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