Pivoting to new environments, the role of the neck in teleost fish evolution and diversity


With over 30,000 species alive today, fish are the most diverse group of vertebrate animals. Studying this “extreme” diversity can provide insights into the general mechanisms of how morphological and ecological diversity evolves in vertebrate animals. A promising—but very understudied—structure for studying fish diversification is the pectoral neck.

In land-dwelling vertebrates like ourselves, the backbone flexibly links the skull and shoulder girdle, a critical evolutionary feature. But in fish this girdle attaches directly to the skull, forming a “pectoral neck” with moveable joints. While the diversity of pectoral neck anatomy has been noted in some studies, we know almost nothing about how the shape of the neck corresponds to its mobility or function, or the evolutionary and ecological significance of shifts in pectoral neck morphology.

This project tests the hypothesis that changes in the shape and mobility of the pectoral neck allowed fishes to explore new ecologies and habitats, leading to bursts of diversity. You will use new digital datasets of 3D anatomy and motion—including X-ray videos, CT reconstruction, and computer animation—and hands-on mechanical testing to explore the relationship between neck shape and mobility. You will also work with researchers in the Natural History Museum London and participate in public engagement activities and training at Sea Life Aquarium.

We are looking for a curious, creative student who enjoys interdisciplinary problem-solving, and can be a reliable, supportive team member. A background in anatomy/physiology, biomechanics, or zoology, and strong experimental and visualization skills are desirable, but project specifics can be adjusted to your interests with training provided. You will be based at the University of Liverpool with the primary supervisor Dr. Ariel Camp and co-supervisor Prof. Nathan Jeffery, with co-supervision from Prof. Anjali Goswami and collaborative support from Dr. Zerina Johanson at the Natural History Museum London.


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

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.



Li EY, Kaczmarek EB, Olsen AM, Brainerd EL, & Camp, AL. (2022). Royal knifefish generate powerful suction feeding through large neurocranial elevation and high epaxial muscle power. Journal of Experimental Biology
Bardua C, Fabre AC, Clavel J, Bon M, Das K, Stanley EL, Blackburn DC, Goswami A (2021) Size, microhabitat, and loss of larval feeding drive cranial diversification in frogs. Nature Communications 12, 2503
Camp A (2021) A neck-like vertebral motion in fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 288: 20211091
Cárdenas-Serna M. & Jeffery N. (2022) Human semicircular canal form: Ontogenetic changes and variation of shape and size. Journal of Anatomy, 240, 541– 555. https://doi.org/10.1111/joa.13576