Function, ecology and macroevolution of the mammalian masticatory system


The masticatory system of mammals is a model system for understanding how ecological and environmental factors interact with intrinsic anatomy and physiology to shape phenotypic diversity. However, most studies have focused exclusively on macroevolutionary patterns in bony morphology and its relationship to shifts in trophic ecology. Relatively few studies have simultaneously assessed patterns of disparity and convergence in muscle morphology and function, thereby limiting our understanding of adaptations and constraints in the masticatory system.

The aim of this project is to carry out an integrated analysis of hard (bone) and soft tissue (muscle) evolution in the mammalian masticatory to determine the relative nature and timing of adaptive changes in these tissues across evolutionary shifts in dietary ecology. Using a combination of dissection, medical image data, geometric morphometrics and phylogenetic comparative methods the student will assess patterns of skull shape and muscle evolution across a taxonomically and ecologically diverse range of extant and extinct mammals. Based on these data, a combination of detailed species-specific and more generalised ‘parametric’ biomechanical models will then be used to generate estimates of mechanical performance or fitness (efficiency, maximal force etc.) for the masticatory system. These functional metrics will then be mapped on to an ‘evolutionary landscape’ to analyse the relationship between ‘morphospace’ and ‘function space’ in the mammalian masticatory system.

The ideal student would have a keen interest or background in zoology/palaeontology and skills in morphometrics, mechanical and/or 3D digital techniques and/or evolutionary modelling, but training will be provided in all techniques to be used. The student will be based primarily with Dr Bates in the Evolutionary Morphology & Biomechanics Group at Liverpool but interact regularly with co-supervisors and their lab groups. 


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 normal personal/supporting statement/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.

The ACCE DTP is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or career pathway to date. We understand that commitment and excellence can be shown in many ways and have built our recruitment process to reflect this. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds, particularly those underrepresented in science, who have curiosity, creativity and a drive to learn new skills.

Informal enquiries may be made to


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Funded studentship

NERC ACCE DTP in Ecology and Evolution, programme starts October 2023.
UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:
• Stipend (2022/23 UKRI rate £17,668)
• Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2022/23 rate £4,596)
• Research support and training grant (RTSG)
Note - UKRI funding only covers UK (Home) fees (£4,596 at 2022/23 rate). A limited number of international fee bursaries will be awarded on a competitive basis. However, if selected International and EU fee rate candidates may need to cover the remaining amount of tuition fees by securing additional funding. International fees for 2022/23 entry were £25,950 (full time) per annum.



Broyde, S., Dempsey, M., Wang, L., Cox, P.G., Fagan, M. & Bates, K.T. 2021. Evolutionary biomechanics: hard tissues and soft evidence? Proceedings of the Royal Society B 288: 20202809
Marek, R.D., Falkingham, P.L., Benson, R.B.J., Gardiner, J.D., Maddox, T. & Bates, K.T. 2021. Evolutionary versality of the avian neck. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. DOI:10.1098/rspb.2020.3150
Bates, K.T., Wang, L., Dempsey, M., Broyde, S., Fagan, M. & Cox, P.G. 2021. Back to the bones: do muscle area assessment techniques predict functional evolution across a macroevolutionary radiation? Journal of the Royal Society Interface 20210324, doi:10.1098/rsif.2021.0324
Mayer, A.E., Burin, G., Cox, P.G., Maddox, T., Maidment, S.C.R., Cooper, N.H., Schachner, E.R. & Bates, K.T. 2022. Body size, shape and ecology in tetrapods. Nature Communications 13(1): 4340.