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Mathematical models of macroevolution and the fossil record


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Key facts

Type of research degree
Application deadline
Ongoing deadline
Country eligibility
International (open to all nationalities, including the UK)
Source of funding
University of Leeds
Dr Richard Mann
School of Mathematics
Research groups/institutes
<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Summary</h2>

The evolutionary history of life on earth is complex, surprising and often controversial. The fossil record is our primary source of information about life in the distant past, and this shows a rapid diversification of animal life about 550 million years ago, the so-called &amp;lsquo;Cambrian Explosion&amp;rsquo;. However, reconstruction of evolutionary histories based on the DNA of modern species indicates a more ancient and less explosive origin for the major animal groups. Other similar controversies surround the origin of the birds and the decline of once dominant animal groups such as the trilobites.<br />

<h2 class="heading hide-accessible">Full description</h2>

<p>Resolving these issues requires a statistical approach to translate evolutionary hypotheses into quantitative predictions. Recent work has also revealed the effects of a number of observational biases in both fossil and DNA data that must be accounted for when modelling the evolutionary process. This project will focus on the properties of stochastic birth-death models that give rise to trees, representing the phylogenetic relationships of both living and extinct species. Using these models we will address several important questions:</p> <ul> <li>How reliable are phylogenies reconstructed from molecular DNA evidence?</li> <li>How well does the fossil record match our expectations from mathematical models of macroevolution?&nbsp;</li> <li>What effect do variations in extinction and speciation rates, particularly mass extinctions, have on the fossil record and reconstructed phylogenies?</li> <li>To what extent can fossil and DNA data provide evidence for ecological processes, such as the many proposed explanations of the Cambrian Explosion?</li> </ul> <p>This interdisciplinary project will involve close collaboration with palaeontologists at Uppsala University in Sweden.&nbsp;</p> <h5>Key papers</h5> <p>Budd and Mann (2020). The dynamics of stem and crown groups. <em>Science Advances</em></p> <p>Budd and Mann (2019) Survival and selection biases in early animal evolution and a source of systematic overestimation in molecular clocks. <em>PaleorXiv</em></p> <p>Budd and Mann (2018). History is written by the victors: the effect of the push of the past on the fossil record. <em>Evolution</em></p> <p>Heath et al. (2014). The fossilized birth&ndash;death process for coherent calibration of divergence-time estimates. <em>Proceedings of the National Academy of Science</em></p> <p>The earliest start date for this project is 1 October 2020.</p>

<h2 class="heading">How to apply</h2>

<p>Formal applications for research degree study should be made online through the&nbsp;<a href="">University&#39;s website</a>. Please state clearly in the research information section&nbsp;that the research degree you wish to be considered for is `Mathematical models of macroevolution and the fossil record&rsquo; as well as <a href="">Dr Richard Mann</a> as your proposed supervisor.</p> <p>If English is not your first language, you must provide evidence that you meet the University&#39;s minimum English language requirements (below).</p> <p><em>We welcome applications from all suitably-qualified candidates, but UK black and minority ethnic (BME) researchers are currently under-represented in our Postgraduate Research community, and we would therefore particularly encourage applications from UK BME candidates. All scholarships will be awarded on the basis of merit.</em></p>

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">Entry requirements</h2>

Applicants to research degree programmes should normally have at least a first class or an upper second class British Bachelors Honours degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate discipline. The criteria for entry for some research degrees may be higher, for example, several faculties, also require a Masters degree. Applicants are advised to check with the relevant School prior to making an application. Applicants who are uncertain about the requirements for a particular research degree are advised to contact the School or Graduate School prior to making an application.

<h2 class="heading heading--sm">English language requirements</h2>

The minimum English language entry requirement for research postgraduate research study is an IELTS of 6.0 overall with at least 5.5 in each component (reading, writing, listening and speaking) or equivalent. The test must be dated within two years of the start date of the course in order to be valid.

<h2 class="heading">Funding on offer</h2>

<p>UK/EU/International &ndash; School of Mathematics&nbsp;Scholarship Award paying Academic Fees at Home/EU fee rate&nbsp;of &pound;4,600 in Session 2020/21 or International fee rate&nbsp;of &pound;21,750 in Session 2020/21 and Maintenance matching EPSRC rates (&pound;15,285 in Session 2020/21) per year for 3 years. Funding is awarded on a competitive basis.</p>

<h2 class="heading">Contact details</h2>

<p>For further information regarding the application procedure, please contact Doctoral College Admissions,<br /> e: <a href=""></a>, t: +44 (0)113 343 5057.</p> <p>For further information regarding the project, please contact&nbsp;Dr Richard Mann,<br /> e: <a href=""></a>, t: +44 (0)113 343 8988.</p>

<h3 class="heading heading--sm">Linked research areas</h3>