Architecture and evolution of gene regulatory networks underlying environmental responses in butterflies


We are seeking an enthusiastic student with passion for developmental biology and evolution to investigate how African butterflies tune their morphology, behaviour and life cycle to wet and dry seasons. This adaptation—‘phenotypic plasticity’—is widespread, as almost all environments show variability, for instance between seasons. Notable examples include seasonal wing morphs in butterflies, wing dimorphism in aphids, and migratory morphs in locusts.

While we know a great deal about why plasticity is important in nature, we know much less about how plastic responses are accomplished during development. What are the genes and pathways that sense the environment and produce a different phenotype when the environment changes? How do these genes interact in gene regulatory networks? How have these networks evolved when species invade new habitats, or are faced with environmental change? How does plasticity affect future adaptation, for instance to climate change? African Bicyclus butterflies are a great system to study these questions. Species have repeatedly evolved plasticity upon invasions of savannahs from forests, allowing comparative analyses at the phenotypic, developmental and genomic level.

The project can be tailored to your specific interests, but would likely involve a broad range of techniques. This includes rearing butterflies in the lab, developmental and genetic experiments, and computational analyses of whole-genome DNA sequences (genomics, coding). The project benefits from established lab populations, promising preliminary data, and new genomic resources.

You will join a newly established laboratory investigating plasticity and rapid adaptation under climate change (supervisor 1), with active collaborations in UK and abroad. The lab is part of the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Behaviour, a vibrant and successful community of biologists. It hosts frequent journal clubs, seminars and social meetings and has a lively postgraduate student society. You will also benefit from rotations and other visits at co-supervisors’ labs, in cell / developmental biology (Durham), and population genetics (Liverpool).

Interests and skills should include some of the following: cell or developmental biology; molecular biology; evolutionary biology; genomics; bioinformatics; butterflies.

Please get in touch informally before you apply if you have any questions about this project or your application. Informal enquiries may be made to 


Applications should be made by emailing  with a CV and a covering letter, including whatever additional information you feel is pertinent to your application; you may wish to indicate, for example, why you are particularly interested in the selected project/s and at the selected University. Applications not meeting these criteria will be rejected. We will also require electronic copies of your degree certificates and transcripts.

In addition to the CV and covering letter, please email a completed copy of the Application Details Form (Word document) to , noting the additional details that are required for your application which are listed in this form. A blank copy of this form can be found at:


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Funded studentship

Studentships are funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) for 4 years. Funding will cover tuition fees at the UK rate only, a Research Training and Support Grant (RTSG) and stipend. We aim to support the most outstanding applicants from outside the UK and are able to offer a limited number of bursaries that will enable full studentships to be awarded to international applicants. These full studentships will only be awarded to exceptional quality candidates, due to the competitive nature of this scheme.