Project Description

As climates warm, many species are now able to colonise new regions poleward of their ancestral geographic ranges. In some cases, range shifting negatively affects local communities, for instance if newcomers out-compete native residents or transmit new diseases. In addition, there is high variability among taxa in range shifting rates, meaning that some species are more vulnerable to future warming, if they are unable to track changing climates. Thus, understanding the mechanisms that promote or hinder range shifts remains an important and open question for improving future biodiversity and ecosystem services in a changing world, and to advance our fundamental understanding of ecological and evolutionary processes.

One important aspect of individual life history that is gaining increasing attention for impacting wider ecological processes is the concept of the holobiont: a single macroscopic host organism together with the wider community of microscopic organisms that colonise it (Koide, 2022). This may include bacteria, archaea, viruses, fungi, and animals that function as parasites, symbionts, and commensals which together can influence changes in host behaviour, physiology, or even morphology. The holobiont may therefore be critical for understanding variation in range shifting rates among host organisms, for instance via interactive impacts on dispersal ability, mating success, environmental tolerances, and habitat selection in new environments. However, this hypothesis has received little attention to date, providing the student with the opportunity to produce ground-breaking research on this topic.

The student will join an existing project team consisting of 3 postdocs and a network of academic collaborators from the UK, Sweden, Finland, Australia, and New Zealand, who are currently researching the evolutionary genetics of range shifting in the common blue tailed damselfly (Ischnura elegans). This species is rapidly shifting to higher latitudes in Northern Europe in response to climate change. We have already identified genetic changes (Dudaniec et al. 2018, 2022) and changes in microbial symbionts (Deng et al. 2021) associated with this range shift. We further recently sampled additional, parallel range shift transects for I. elegans in Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, and Finland, with the aim to understand how genetic and community differences explain variation in range shifting success. The student will join the team to contribute knowledge on the holobiont, how it shifts across latitudes and with organismal development, and how these patterns relate to changes in dispersal and population characteristics along the four transects. There will be ample opportunity for fieldwork, networking with academic and non-academic partners and stakeholders, and creative freedom for the student to develop their own project directions.

The supervisory and project team will provide support and training in evolutionary ecology, population ecology, microbial ecology, and techniques in genetics, bioinformatics, statistical analysis, and eco-evolutionary modelling. The project will combine fieldwork, molecular genetics, and modelling to explain how holobiont turnover interacts with species’ responses to climate change. Project partner Buglife will further offer a 3-month internship to provide the student with experience in a more applied research and outreach setting.

For all informal inquiries, please contact Lesley Lancaster (


The position is open to students with a demonstratable interest in investigating the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of range shifting organisms, and how these dynamics may be impacted by species interactions. Such interest should be demonstrated through their cover letter, describing their ideas and interests and how these developed from their previous readings or research. Any previous experience with data handling and analytical or modelling approaches should also be described in the application.

Photo credit: Erik Svensson.


Lesley Lancaster

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: Lesley Lancaster
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Chris Creevey

Secondary Supervisor:

Profile: Chris Creevey
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Cécile Gubry-Rangin

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Cécile Gubry-Rangin
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Greta Bocedi

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Greta Bocedi
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Additional Supervisor:

Mr Craig Macadam, Buglife – The Invertebrate Conservation Trust



Wolbachia-driven selective sweep in a range expanding insect species

J Deng, G Assandri, P Chauhan, R Futahashi, A Galimberti, B Hansson, LT Lancaster, Y Takahashi, EI Svensson, A Duplouy

BMC Ecology and Evolution 21 (181)


Signatures of local adaptation along environmental gradients in a range‐expanding damselfly (Ischnura elegans)

RY Dudaniec, CJ Yong, LT Lancaster, EI Svensson, B Hansson

Molecular Ecology 27 (11), 2576-2593


On Holobionts, Holospecies, and Holoniches: the Role of Microbial Symbioses in Ecology and Evolution

Roger T. Koide

Microbial Ecology (2022)


  • biodiversity


To be confirmed

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