Evolutionary adaptation to climate change in native grasslands: genetic basis and ecological consequences


The ACCE DTP is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, faith or religious belief, pregnancy or maternity, parental or caring responsibilities or career pathway to date. We understand that a student’s potential can be shown in many ways and we strive to recruit students from all backgrounds, and support them on their scientific journey.

We have designed our application systems to identify candidates who are likely to be successful in research regardless of what opportunities may have been available to them prior to their application.

Various support and guidance on applying for an ACCE DTP studentship, including how to apply; what we’re looking for (including our assessment rubric); details of financial support, training, and placement opportunities available; and details of our recruitment process, can be found at https://accedtp.ac.uk, in the ‘prospective applicants’ tab.

Project overview

We are looking for a candidate with strong interests in evolutionary ecology and field work to study adaptive evolution in response to climate change in species-rich meadow ecosystems in the UK and Sweden.

Adaptive evolution is essential for populations to keep pace with climate change and persist in their environment. However, we know little about the genomic basis of these rapid responses, or their ecological impacts on coexisting populations of other species. This is unfortunate, as understanding how adaptation works is vital to predicting species that are "winners” and “losers” under environmental change.

This project will make use of the world’s longest-running climate manipulation experiment (the Buxton Climate Change Impacts Lab), and linked study sites in the UK and Sweden. Using the ecological model grass Festuca ovina, We will explore the genomic basis of adaptation driven by drought and warming, and its consequences for interactions and competition with coexisting meadow species. Using existing genomic resources and plant collections, experiments, and field work, we will study how results from our experimental facility at Buxton translate to the wider landscape. The findings of this work will be relevant to conservation practitioners interested in ecological restoration, and native wildflower seed producers.

This project will provide training in evolutionary ecology, fieldwork, plant growth experiments, genomics and molecular ecology. Please contact Raj Whitlock () if you have queries about this project, or want to discuss its scope, which is flexible at this stage.

Essential and desirable criteria


  • Degree in a relevant study area
  • Interest in, and demonstrable motivation to study climate impacts on plants
  • Experience with data analysis for designed experiments or field studies, ideally using R
  • Experience of fieldwork


  • M-level qualification in a relevant study area
  • Research experience in (plant) ecology or evolutionary biology or climate impacts on biodiversity
  • Past experience in molecular labs or plant growth/ experimental facilities
  • Motivation to learn new data analyses, including at the command line
  • Ability to communicate effectively with team members and collaborators/ stakeholders

How to apply

Notes and details of how to apply are available here: https://accedtp.ac.uk/phd-opportunities/

All applicants to ACCE must complete the ACCE personal statement proforma. This is instead of a personal/supporting statement or cover letter. The proforma is designed to standardise this part of the application to minimise the difference between those who are given support and those who are not. Candidates should also submit a CV and the contact details of 2 referees.

Part-time study options

All ACCE PhDs are available as part time or full time, with part time being a minimum of 50% of full time. Please discuss potential part time arrangements with the primary supervisor before applying to the programme.

Project CASE status

This project is not a CASE project. While individual applicant quality is our overriding criterion for selection, the ACCE DTP has a commitment for 40% of all studentships to be CASE funded - as such, CASE projects may be favoured in shortlisting applicants when candidates are otherwise deemed to be equal or a consensus on student quality cannot be reached. This will only be done as a last resort for separating candidates.


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Funded studentship

NERC ACCE DTP programme starts from October 2024.
UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:

  • Stipend (2023/24 UKRI rate £18,622)
  • Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2023/24 rate £4,712)
  • Research support and training grant (RTSG)

Note - UKRI funding only covers UK (Home) fees. The DTP partners have various schemes which allow international students to join the DTP but only be required to pay home fees. Home fees are already covered in the UKRI funding, meaning that successful international candidates do not need to find any additional funding for fees.



1.Trinder, SA, Askew, AP & Whitlock, R. 2020. “Climate-driven evolutionary change in reproductive and early-acting life-history traits in the perennial grass Festuca ovina”. Journal of Ecology, 108, 1398–1410.
2.Ravenscroft, CH, Whitlock, R and Fridley, JD. 2015. “Rapid genetic divergence in response to 15 years of simulated climate change” Global Change Biology, 21, 4165–4176.
3.Sayer, E. J., Crawford, J. A., Edgerley, J., Askew, A. P., Hahn, C. Z., Whitlock, R. and Dodd, I. C. 2021. Adaptation to chronic drought modifies soil microbial community responses to phytohormones. Nature Communications Biology, 4, 516.