The Department of Geography at Durham University seeks to appoint a full-time Post-Doctoral Research Associate in Antarctic Molecular Ecology to join the inter-disciplinary research team led by Professor Erin McClymont as part of the Leverhulme Trust-funded project “Unlocking evidence for Antarctic sea-ice evolution from a novel biological archive”. The post is fixed term for 3 years. The PDRA will work under the supervision of both Professor McClymont (Geography) and Professor Rus Hoelzel (Biosciences) at Durham University, and will collaborate with other members of the project team.

The overall Leverhulme Trust-funded project aims to reconstruct histories of Antarctic sea-ice ecosystems and environments from the Last Glacial Maximum to present, using a combination of geochemical and reconstructions of snow petrel diet, modern snow petrel observations and diet sampling, genetic evidence for changes to snow petrel diet and populations, and modelling sea ice ecosystems for the past, present and future. A parallel project funded by the European Research Council, includes additional snow petrel observation work and climate/sea ice modelling. Across the two projects, the team includes 4 PhD researchers, 3 PDRAs, and investigators at both Durham University (Geography, Biosciences) and the British Antarctic Survey.

The overall aim of this PDRA position will be to generate and interrogate genetic information for the past diets of snow petrels (Pagodroma nivea) and to examine how snow petrel colonies have changed over time. Snow petrels forage within the sea ice, but nest on exposed slopes above the Antarctic ice sheet. Their diet has been observed to change today under different sea-ice conditions but also in the past (McClymont et al., 2022, Climate of the Past) as a result of accumulated stomach-oil deposits at nesting sites. The PDRA will analyse modern snow petrel stomach oils and prey to characterise the dominant prey species in the diet, and apply ancient DNA metabarcoding analysis to the deposits in order to complement ongoing geochemical reconstructions of past diet. The PDRA will then use DNA preserved in both modern snow petrel samples and the stomach-oil deposits to investigate the size, structure, connectivity and changes to snow petrel colonies through time. The project has recovered samples from four geographical regions, which have some overlap, and will test the hypothesis that isolation of snow petrel colonies during times of more extended sea and land ice led to separate lines of evolution.

Please see the full list of responsibilities and person specification given below.

The successful applicant will join the Leverhulme Trust and ERC project teams (12 members) and large internationally recognised groups of researchers in the Departments of Geography and Biosciences Durham University, including the ‘Ecology, Evolution and Environment’ cluster (https://www.durham.ac.uk/departments/academic/biosciences/research/groups/ecology-evolution-and-environment/) and the ‘Sea Level, Ice and Climate’ cluster (https://www.dur.ac.uk/geography/slic/). In Biosciences, the applicant will join the Molecular Ecology Group, a vibrant group of staff, PDRAs and postgraduates, many of whom work on population genomic and metagenomic projects. Work on ancient DNA is well established in the group, including a study that amplified a mitogenome from an Eemian deer (~130,000 years old).  The PDRA will have access to excellent facilities for labwork in molecular ecology, including an inclusive set of equipment for NGS QC work, and a dedicated ancient DNA lab.  The department’s DBS Genomics facility also has HiSeq and MiSeq machines together with a dedicated sequencing and bioinformatics staff.  Prof. Hoelzel is the academic lead of this facility.  Durham also has an excellent high processing computing core, including shared memory cores well suited to bioinformatic work.

Responsibilities :

  • To generate metabarcoding and population genomic data towards the assessment of diet, population structure and historical population dynamics, including work with ancient DNA.
  • To apply the most current and useful bioinformatics methods and pipelines to analyse the DNA sequence data in support of the project aims and objectives, and contribute to the further analysis and interpretation of the results.
  • To understand and convey material of a specialist or highly technical nature to the team or group of people through presentations and discussions that leads to the presentation of research papers in conferences and publications.
  • To prepare and deliver presentations on research outputs/activities to audiences which may include: research sponsors, academic and non-academic audiences.
  • To publish high quality outputs, including papers for submission to peer reviewed journals and papers for presentation at conferences and workshops under the direction of the Principal Investigator or Grant-holder.
  • To assist with the development of research objectives and proposals.
  • To work with the Principal Investigator or Grant-holder and other colleagues in the research group, as appropriate, to identify areas for research, develop new research methods and extend the research portfolio.
  • To deal with problems that may affect the achievement of research objectives and deadlines by discussing with the Principal Investigator or Grant-holder and offering creative or innovative solutions.
  • To liaise with research colleagues and make internal and external contacts to develop knowledge and understanding to form relationships for future research collaboration.
  • To plan and manage own research activity, research resources in collaboration with others and contribute to the planning of research projects.
  • To deliver training in research techniques/approaches to peers, visitors and students as appropriate.
  • To be involved in student supervision, as appropriate, and assist with the assessment of the knowledge of students.
  • To contribute to fostering a collegial and respectful working environment which is inclusive and welcoming and where everyone is treated fairly with dignity and respect.
  • To engage in wider citizenship to support the department and wider discipline.
  • To engage in continuing professional development by participation in the undergraduate or postgraduate teaching programmes or by membership of departmental committees, etc. and by attending relevant training and development courses.