PhD projects in mitonuclear ecology, genetics, and behaviour

TWO fully-funded Ph.D. positions are available for projects that will seek to understand how genetic variation within the mitochondrial genome influences organism performance, life history, and evolution.

The projects will involve testing emerging hypotheses from the rapidly growing field known as “mitonuclear ecology,” which explores how mitochondrial genetics and biochemistry (driven by interacting mitochondrial and nuclear genomes) influence fundamental behavioural, ecological, and evolutionary processes—from the complex pre-copulatory behaviours associated with mating to reproductive outcomes to ageing.

Project 1 will address the physiological and behavioural consequences of variation in mitochondrial performance. The project will test new hypotheses for how mitochondrial function affects individual “quality” and thereby mating behaviour; depending on student experience and interests, the project can test these hypotheses from the bottom up (biochemistry/physiology) and/or the top down (evolutionary/behavioural ecology).

Project 2 will address the genotypic contributions of mitochondrial and nuclear genomes (and their interactions) to sex differences in organismal life history, from reproductive performance to longevity. This project will explore the functional consequences of mito-nuclear genetic variation, with a focus on testing an evolutionary hypothesis known as “Mother’s Curse”⎯i.e, that maternal inheritance of mitochondria has led to the accumulation of mutations within the mitochondrial DNA sequence that confer harm to males, but which are benign or beneficial in effect to females.

Both projects will integrate techniques and experimental designs drawn from evolutionary biology, ecology, genetics, and physiology. A key tool will be genetic strains of fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) in which different mitochondrial DNA haplotypes have been introgressed alongside a diverse set of nuclear DNA backgrounds. This system offers the invaluable opportunity to separate mitochondrial and nuclear genetic effects on organismal function, exploring the downstream consequences of mitochondrial variation on individual behaviors and physiology. There will be full flexibility for the successful applicants to pursue their own academic ideas and interests within the scope of their projects.

We are seeking students who are highly motivated and passionate about evolutionary biology, the mechanistic bases of animal behaviour, and/or mitonuclear ecology; applicants should be familiar with the fundamentals of evolutionary theory and behavioural ecology. The successful candidates will be supervised by A/Prof. Damian Dowling (damiandowlinglab.com) and Dr. Rebecca Adrian (rkadrian.com) within the Experimental Evolutionary Biology Lab at Monash University’s School of Biological Sciences⎯a vibrant group comprising other PhD students, postdoctoral associates, and undergraduate researchers, with access to state-of-the-art technology platforms for the study of evolutionary genetics, physiology, and behaviour.

The successful applicant will be awarded a scholarship that covers salary (current rate is $27,872 AUD tax-free per year), a waiver of student fees, and the option to supplement salary through teaching assistance during undergraduate lab courses. The position includes funding for international and national conference visits and for all research costs.

Monash and the School of Biological Sciences

Monash University is a member of Australia’s “Group of Eight”—a coalition of research-intensive universities—and is internationally recognized for excellence in research and teaching. The School of Biological Sciences (http://monash.edu/science/about/schools/biological-sciences/) is home to a collegial and world-class research environment, with key strengths in evolutionary ecology and genomics.


Monash University is located in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, a vibrant cultural and recreational centre that is consistently rated one of the world’s most liveable cities (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World’s_most_livable_cities).

Application process

Interested candidates should send their CV, a copy of their academic transcript, and a cover letter outlining their research interests to rebecca.adrian@monash.edu and damian.dowling@monash.edu. Enquiries prior to application are welcome.

For further information on Ph.D. scholarships and Monash application procedures, please visit http://monash.edu/science/about/schools/biological-sciences/postgrad/

Review of applications will commence immediately.

Interested applicants should contact Damian Dowling to discuss ideas and funding opportunities.

The Australian Research Council scheme funds a dedicated and lucrative postdoctoral scheme for applicants within five years of conferring their PhD (https://www.arc.gov.au/grants/discovery-program/discovery-early-career-researcher-award-decra).

There are also many international schemes that will fund postdoctoral work in Australia.

The PhD degree at Monash University is a three year research intensive course, during which time the students will engage and lead cutting edge research projects that are published in international journals, and contribute to their research thesis.

PhD students are supported by scholarships that all cover living expenses, and scholarships that waive tuition fees. These scholarships are competitive, with intake twice per year (applications close 31 May, 31 October).

Interested applicants should contact Damian Dowling, with brief description of their research interests, CV, and copy of their undergraduate academic transcript. The School of Biological Sciences will offer ‘top-up’ scholarships of >$5000 to the most outstanding applicants. For furher information on the PhD program at Monash, see: http://www.monash.edu.au/migr/

I generally take on one to two students per year to work on 10 month research projects as part of the Monash undergraduate Honours program.

Students wishing to take this one year long research program should contact me in the first instance, and read about our program athttp://monash.edu/science/about/schools/biological-sciences/honours/