Investigating native plants derived from whole-genome duplication events and understanding why they are successful

Project description

We are seeking two highly-motivated PhD students for a project that seeks to understand why plants with multiple sets of chromosomes (polyploidy) are so common in New Zealand and elsewhere.

The three-year project is part of a new Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund grant. Specifically, we want to determine the relative roles of genetic differentiation, genomic downsizing, trait innovation and novel ecological opportunities in the evolutionary success of many polypoid species.  

Our prediction is that polyploidy creates both costs and opportunities for plants which limit the type of environments they can occupy. The idea is to investigate plant lineages in New Zealand with well-documented and different levels of chromosome duplication.

With the research team, the aim is obtain information on genome size, gene expression, phylogenetic relationships, ecophysiological and trait features, and undertake process-based niche modelling across ploidy levels in six representative lineages (e.g. Asplenium, Poa, Plantago, Schizeilema, Leptinella, Veronica).

This is an ideal PhD opportunity in evolutionary ecology and the students will gain experience in genomic analysis, comparative phylogenetics, trait analysis, and species distribution modelling, depending on their interests.

Project Supervisors

Professor Bill Lee, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland and Landcare Research, Dunedin, New Zealand; Dr Jen Tate, Massey University, Palmerston North; Dr Heidi Meudt and Dr Patrick Brownsey,  Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa , Wellington. The PhD students will also gain experience working with Professor Dirk Albach (Carl von Ossietzky-University Oldenburg, Germany) and Dr Andrew Tanentzap (University of Cambridge, UK).


Funding includes a tax-free stipend, full tuition fees, and operational expenses for travel, conference attendance and research expenses over the 3-year programme. Both international and domestic students are eligible. One PhD (ecophysiology, species distribution modelling) will be run from the University of Auckland but will include time at Landcare Research in Dunedin, while the other (phylogenetics, genomics) will be based at Massey University, Palmerston North.


Applicants should have completed a degree with a significant research component (e.g. MSc or BSc Honours), and have an excellent academic record. Applicants need to have a background either in plant ecology, ecophysiology, phylogenetics or computational biology.

Applicants should email their CV, academic transcripts, a cover letter stating why you are interested in the position and how your qualifications and experience make you a good fit for the proposed research, and the contact details for at least two referees to Prof. Bill Lee ( or

Applications close on 1st April 2018.