Improving Model Based Inference In Phylogenetic Biogeography

Applications open as of July 2019 in the lab of Nicholas J. Matzke.

Funded PhD project: Improving model-based inference in phylogenetic biogeography

A fully-funded PhD scholarship is available at the University of Auckland to work on improving and testing new models and methods in phylogenetic biogeography. Phylogenetic biogeography is the study of how the geographic ranges of species change over millions of years. Modern methods are based on probabilistic models, where the importance of various processes is statistically inferred from the data, and these inferences are used to estimate the history of each clade.

Such methods are used in hundreds of studies a year, and the results of such studies provide information about how species have evolved in response to plate tectonics and climate change, and have implications for topics such as epidemiology and conservation in a world with invasive species and global warming. However, available methods have many limitations, especially in their treatment of (1) extinction, (2) fossils, and (3) palaeogeography. The PhD student will collaborate with Dr. Matzke to produce new methods that allow new phylogenetic biogeography models to make use of resources such as the Paleobiology Database and the open-source plate-tectonics software, GPlates.

Conducting this research in New Zealand is especially attractive, as it has a long history of fascinating debates about the geographic history of the flora and fauna of New Zealand and Gondwanaland, so there is a large scientific and public interest in biogeographical questions. New Zealand also has a long history of being at the leading edge of statistical phylogenetics. The University of Auckland has an international reputation, and was 85th worldwide in the 2018/19 QS World University Rankings.

Research Project Objectives

The detailed plan for the PhD research project will be developed in collaboration with the student in line with their specific interests, but the funded project is aimed at these overall goals:

1. Devise and test new models for inference of biogeographic history at macroevolutionary timescales

2. Use these models to combine standard, DNA-based dated phylogenies with data sources such as the Paleobiology Database and GPlates to test and improve inferences

3. Help to develop and teach the resulting software package

4. Present this work in peer-reviewed publications and at regional and international meetings

Criteria for successful applicant

Students should have the equivalent of a Masters-level qualification or the equivalent of a bachelors degree with honours (see Entry Requirements at: ). Prior coursework or research experience in any of these areas will be helpful: evolution, phylogenetics, biogeography, statistics, programming / bioinformatics, Geographic Information Systems, Species Distribution Modelling.

Other information

PhDs at U. Auckland generally take 3 years full-time, often adding a 6-month extension for writeup. Auckland has continuous, rolling admissions, and a candidate will be selected as soon as possible, so interested students should apply immediately to the U. Auckland School of Biological Sciences (SBS) at: .

The scholarship covers fees and (if international) health insurance, as well as $27,900 per annum stipend. The regulations of this PhD scholarship are available at:

Students often also get additional employment as teaching assistants for undergraduate lab courses.

(Note: Depending on circumstances, a student may be eligible for other appropriate scholarships as well; this decision is made by a committee after the application to the PhD programme has been received. Therefore, applicants should indicate their background and interest in this topic in their application proposal, and also email Dr. Matzke at||ekztam.n indicating their interests. More information on Matzke's research is available at: )

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