Genomics of adaptation to environmental change in British Lepidoptera


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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, in the ‘prospective applicants’ tab.

Project overview

Lepidoptera are sensitive to changes in their environment, be it habitat loss, climate change or pesticides, resulting in major changes to their abundances and distributions over the past 60 years. However, these responses are idiosyncratic; for example, some species have expanded their range while others contracted in response to climate change. Moreover, ecology alone does not fully explain these patterns; the capacity to adapt is also likely to be an important factor.

Selection pressures arising from environmental changes leave distinct signatures in genomes. Consequently, genome-wide analysis of allele frequency changes can provide novel insight into adaptation, its genetic architecture, and how it interacts with contrasting demographic responses among species.

Uniquely, we have collected population-level whole genome resequencing data for 20 species of British butterflies and moths before and after agricultural intensification and climate change: pre-1930s (Natural History Museum) and 2016/17. When coupled with chromosome-level reference genomes produced by the Darwin Tree of Life project (, these data provide an excellent platform to comparatively explore genetic changes associated with 20th century environmental change. We are largely ignorant about the genetic architecture of multi-dimensional adaptation to Anthropocene environments. This project will answer fundamental questions about the number of loci involved, the strength of selection, and the extent of gene reuse among species.

In this project, you will combine bioinformatic tools with population genetics concepts to uncover and analyse genetic changes that have occurred over 80-100 years (generations). You will:

  1. Identify loci under selection between pre-1930s and early 21st century population samples
  2. Compare selected loci among species, including candidate functions
  3. Test hypotheses about genotype-phenotype associations in one focal species

You will receive all of the relevant training but you must have an interest in evolutionary genetics/ecology. Previous experience with bioinformatics/genomics, phylogenetic analysis, statistics with R, and fieldwork are an advantage.

Essential and Desirable Criteria


  • Introductory evolutionary genetics and ecology


  • Bioinformatics/genomics
  • Phylogenetic analysis
  • Statistics (R)
  • Fieldwork
  • Natural history/identification

How to Apply

Notes and details of how to apply are available here:

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.Ebdon S, Bisschop G, Lohse K, Saccheri I, Davies J, et al. 2022. "The genome sequence of the orange-tip butterfly, Anthocharis cardamines (Linnaeus, 1758)". Wellcome Open Res. 7: 260. doi: 10.12688/wellcomeopenres.18117.1
2.Macgregor CJ, Thomas CD, Roy DB, Beaumont MA, Bell JR, Brereton T, Bridle JR, Dytham C, Fox R, Gotthard K, Hoffmann AA, Martin G, Middlebrook I, Nylin S, Platts PJ, Rasteiro R, Saccheri IJ, Villoutreix R, Wheat CW and Hill JK. 2019. "Climate-induced phenology shifts linked to range expansions in species with multiple reproductive cycles per year". Nature Communications 10: 4455. doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-12479-w
3.Minter M, Dasmahapatra KK, Thomas CD, Morecroft MD, Tonhasca A, Schmitt T and Hill JK. 2020. "Past, current and potential future distributions of unique genetic diversity in a cold‐adapted mountain butterfly". Ecology & Evolution 10: 11155-11168. doi: 10.1002/ece3.6755
4.Taylor-Cox ED, Macgregor CJ, Corthine A, Hill JK, Hodgson JA and Saccheri IJ. 2020. "Wing morphological responses to latitude and colonisation in a range expanding butterfly". PeerJ 8:e10352. doi: 10.7717/peerj.10352