At present students can choose from 22 different master thesis projects. Unfortunately, they’re only situated in Sweden but more projects are to come.
Reconstructing plastid evolution by metagenomics
Oxygenic photosynthesis converts light into energy, an essential process for life. The origin of photosynthetic organelles, i.e. plastids (or chloroplasts), was a landmark event in the history of eukaryotes, launching an astonishing diversification of micro– and macroscopic algae and land plants. Although the endosymbiotic theory explains well the origin of plastids from cyanobacteria, the subsequent evolution of plastids within eukaryotes is complex and controversial. A growing body of evidence suggests that plastids have experienced a convoluted evolution, moving laterally across eukaryotes by several rounds of complex endosymbioses. The result is an unresolved web of related endosymbiotic and unrelated host lineages. A major current limitation to our understanding of plastid evolution is that plastid genomes are available for only a tiny fraction of the algal diversity, mostly corresponding to described species. Here, we propose to overcome this limitation by building a gene and taxon-rich plastid phylogeny using environmental plastid genomes reconstructed from metagenomes.
Supervisor: Fabien Burki
Further information: pdf
Phylogeny of a group of Acoela (marine worms)
A large portion of biodiversity is still unknown, and this is especially true for marine habitats and microscopic organisms. In this project you will study the phylogeny of a group of microscopic marine worms that belong to the group Acoela. You will collect material from marine habitats, sequence DNA and perform a phylogenetic analysis of the group. The aim is to produce a phylogenetic hypothesis that can explain the evolution of morphological features in these animals and serve as a basis for their classification.
New species of Acoela
In this project you will analyse the phylogenetic relationships within a group (genus) of Acoela using molecular data and describe and name new species based on studies of their morphology and on analyses of DNA sequences. The material has already been collected, prepared for histological study and partially sequenced. You will do some additional sequencing, perform phylogenetic analyses and morphological studies. The aim is to produce complete descriptions of the new species that will be published in a scientific journal.
Radiations in tropical Trichoptera
One of the research projects in entomology aims at explaining the phylogenetic relationships and biogeography among the ultra high diversity of caddisflies (Trichoptera) on New Caledonia. New Caledonia is a small island in the Pacific Ocean and serves as a nearly isolated experimental laboratory for studying species radiations, and studies under the project covers working out phylogenetic hypotheses based on molecular data, and analyzing the biogeographic pattern of the group by using on modern modern analytical tools. The morphology of the insects will be examined by using light and compound microscopes. Scanning electron microscopy is used when needed. A part of the study will also include describing species new to science, and publishing results in a scientific journal.
One fifth of all described species on earth are beetles, why beetle research is important and aquatic beetles are in focus for some of the research at the Swedish Museum of Natural History. We can offer master thesis subjects in the following categories: 1) Taxonomic, e.g. DNA Barcoding, description of new species, sorting out difficult species complexes/sister species 2) Phylogenetic, e.g. reconstructing phylogenetic hypotheses of evolutionary relatedness among species, genera or families and using the trees to propose natural classifications and test if previously suggested groupings are monophyletic 3) Evolutionary, here it is often about using phylogenetic trees/hypotheses to answer questions like how old is a group (dating), when did some colonization events or habitat switches occur and how many where they, how fast was the speciation in a group, or how did some characters evolve or co-evolve. Practically, master thesis projects in all three categories usually involves, but in different amounts, molecular lab work to collect DNA data, microscope studies of morphology, computer-analyses, e.g. various phylogenetic analyses of DNA data. They can also include collection in the field. We work a lot with the fauna of Madagascar but also the Swedish/European fauna and globally.
Morphology and systematics of Clitellata
This research project works with phylogenetic analyses and hypotheses of morphological character evolution in Clitellata. Several anatomical structures can be studied; body wall muscles, epidermis, and cuticle, using different methods such as transmission electron microscopy (TEM), and routin histology. The MSc project includes collecting worms, fixation, embedding, sectioning, and running the TEM. This will contribute to solve the phylogeny of annelids, and you will learn preparation methods for microscopy and get a good knowledge about the TEM.
Morphology and systematics in brittle stars (Ophiuroidea)
This project studies the phylogeny and taxonomy of brittle stars with mainly morphological methods by means of SEM. Projects on different levels can be offered, e.g. studies of skeletal structures (e.g. arm plates, jaws, dental plates) to understand homologies, comparative studies of ontogeny in a phylogenetic context, as well as alpha taxonomic studies including description of new species. Training includes taxonomic methods and principles, identification of brittle stars, skills in SEM preparation and operating the instrument, and interpretation of images. The MSc project also includes digital image processing, database usage and design, and writing a scientific paper.
Morphology and systematics in Nematods
O. Holovachov’s long-term research interests in nematology are the morphology and systematics of free-living bacterivorous and predaceous nematodes, with particular emphasis on the ecological and behavioral aspects of nematode evolution. The main focus of current research is the biodiversity of terrestrial and marine nematodes of the fauna of Sweden, morphology-based and molecular phylogenetics and origin of parasitism in marine nematodes. The putative MSc project can either focus on the survey of the nematode fauna of a certain region of Sweden, or a taxonomic revision of a certain group of nematodes, including the description of new species. It will include training in general sampling techniques, preparation of specimens for microscopic observations, nematode identification, taxonomic procedures, etc.
The Ichthyology team is specialized in studies of freshwater fishes from Sweden, Latin America, Asia, and to some extent also Asia. The most focal taxonomic groups are cichlids (Cichlidae) and cyprinids (Cyprinidae), which are the two most species-rich vertebrate families, presenting a large number of systematic problems at different levels. We are particularly interested in theoretical aspects on species, historical biogeographical analyses, and the use of GIS and FishBase for large scale analyses of biological parameters in a phylogenetic perspective. We supervise morphological/molecular genetic projects that also include a wider biological outlook (e.g., mimicry, growth allometries, ontogeny, dispersal biology), and preferably analyses at the level of species or genus. Certain years we may offer participation in field work. Hot topics at the moment include cichlids from Lake Tanganyika, dwarf cichlids from South America, cyprinid fishes from Myanmar, and the phylogeny of the Cyprinidae. The degree project must be conducted within the framework of an ongoing research project.
Cenozoic Eurasian and Antarctic vertebrates
One research project at the Swedish Museum of Natural History deals with fossil vertebrates (fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals) from Antarctica, Central Europe, and East Asia. The studies are focussed on evolution, systematics, and biogeography during the Eocene and Miocene thermal optima 55 and 15 million years ago. Morphologic, morphometric, and microstructure analyses are used to investigate specimens on genus and species level. Investigation includes lightmicroscopy and scanning electron microscope, for both anlysis and documentation. Depending on logistics, we can offer the opportunity to join field work in the James Ross Basin, Antarctica.
Projects concerning the ecological adaptations (ecomorphology) of carnivores
Research concerning the evolution of carnivores at the Swedish Museum of Natural History is based on an extensive database of morphometric data on the functional attributes of a large number of species (85% of living terrestrial carnivores). This database can be analysed in conjunction with another database, with climate and environment data on more than 200 sites from all continents. These data can be analysed in many ways (geographically, phylogenetically, ecologically, etc.) to provide a basis for understanding the ecological and evolutionary role of carnivores. The projects are expected to provide experience in the use of a number of statistical methods, interpreting results according to scientific principles, and in some cases may lead to development of new analytic methods.
Animal-plant interaction in the Cretaceous of Scania
(Bivalvia and mangrove)
During the late Cretaceous (ca 80-65 Ma), the northeastern part of Skne (southern Sweden) was covered by a shallow sea. The Swedish Museum of Natural History holds extensive collections of fossil shells from this environment, including large numbers of oyster shells representing different species living in a range of different environments. The collection includes oysters living on the roots of mangrove trees, as well as species preferring other substrates. As the substrate leaves a mark on the oyster shell it is possible to analyze what environmental preferences different species had and to reconstruct the fossil ecosystem, including animal-plant interactions. The project will start with an inventory of fossil oysters in the collections of the Swedish Museum of Natural History, potentially in combination with fieldwork in Skne. The following analysis on substrate preferences of individual species will focus on species from the mangrove environment to outline the interaction of oysters and mangrove and between different species of oysters. Is it possible identify the type of mangrove the oysters were living on? The work will provide experience in fossil preparation, latex molding to study negative marks, photography and statistical analysis of data, as well as potentially experience in palaeontological fieldwork.
Palaeoecology in the oldest �coral reefs� on Earth
(Cnidaria and Porifera)
During the early Cambrian (ca 543-515 Ma), environments comparable to modern coral reefs evolved for the first time. The Cambrian reefs were primarily constructed by sponges and algae, but were also home to a large number of other invertebrate animals that are sometimes preserved as fossils. Some of the best preserved early Cambrian reefs are found along the coast of southern Labrador in Canada. The Labrador reefs preserve a number of different micro-environments and the purpose of the proposed project is to study differences in the fauna between these environments to be able to understand the life environments and ecological demands of individual organisms. The project will include preparation of collected material in acetic acid, identification of acid-resistant fossils using electron microscopy (SEM) and comparisons of faunas along a transect between two reef bodies.
Ancient DNA and population genetics
Genetic analysis is an excellent tool to investigate different population processes such as divergence, gene flow among regions, local adaptation and population demography, and how these processes might be affected by different environmental factors. At the ancient DNA and population genetics research group at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, we use genetic analysis on both modern samples and prehistoric fossils up to 100,000 years old to study these population processes. We can offer MSc projects on two main themes: ancient DNA and contemporary genetics. Ancient DNA research is aimed at retrieving genetic data from historical specimens. This can involve anything from 100-year-old samples stored in a museum, to analyses on Ice Age species such as mammoth and cave lion. Examples of questions that could be addressed include the taxonomy of extinct species and extinction/recolonisation dynamics of populations through time. Using DNA analysis on contemporary samples, it is possible to address a wide variety of questions. At present, we are working both on assessing population genetic structure in different mammals as well as using DNA technology for diet analysis. We are happy to discuss any type of MSc project within either of the two themes discussed above. Further information about the research group is available at www.palaeogenetics.com
Bird phylogeny and evolution
Within the research group for avian systematics at the Swedish Museum of Natural History we focus on studying the phylogenetic relationships and evolution in passerine birds (Passeriformes). For this we use DNA-sequence data obtained from nuclear and mitochondrial genes. We welcome one or several students to participate in this work by first obtaining sequence data for a smaller group of taxa and then performing phylogenetic analyses of these data.
Patterns of morphometric variation and taxonomy of the bryophyte genus Plagiothecium in southern Sweden
The genus Plagiothecium (Sv.: sidenmossor) is taxonomically problematic since the different species currently recognized mainly differ in size and a few other morphological characters. It may even appear as if there is a continuum of variation from the smallest to the largest species. Between 7 and 10 species are recognized as occuring in southern Sweden in different recent floras and at least some of these appear to differ with respect to distribution and choice of habitat. However, there is no consensus as to how many species may be recognized or how they should be circumscribed and delimited. During the ongoing inventory of the bryophyte flora of the province of Skne, a large and representative material of this genus has been collected making it possible to thoroughly analyse the pattern of variation by means of multivariate statistical tools. The aim of this project is thus to obtain data about all characters traditionally used to differentiate taxa in this genus and use various multivariate statistical methods to analyse to what extent the variation in different characters correlate, and if there are any discontinuities in the pattern of variation that may be used to differentiate between the species. A basic question will be to find out how many species may be recognized and what frequency and distribution they have in the province of Skne. A pilot study with molecular markers may optionally be added to this project with the aim of assessing to what extent the morphometric variation correlates with the pattern of molecular variation, but without prior knowledge of a suitable molecular marker system for this particular bryophyte genus the odds for finding a marker system that may reveal suitable levels and patterns of variation may be rather high.
Patterns of morphometric variation and infra-specific taxonomy of a highly polymorphic Nordic vascular plant species
In the Nordic countries, the infra-specific taxonomy and variation of polymorphic but common and widespread plant species have not received much attention in recent years. As a consequence, there are several species within which two or more infraspecific taxa are currently recognized in standard floras but for which the infraspecific taxonomy has never been thoroughly investigated. The aim of this group of projects is to select one of the polymorphic species briefly described below, measure a set of variable characters and map their distribution throughout the Nordic countries based on herbarium specimens in the public herbaria, use various multivariate statistical methods to analyse to what extent the variation in different morphological characters correlate, and, ultimately, try to find out which (if any) combinations of characters that may be used for defining and circumscribing geographical or ecological races that may deserve to be recognized taxonomically. Pilot studies with molecular markers may optionally be added to these projects with the aim of assessing to what extent the morphometric variation correlates with the pattern of molecular variation, but without prior knowledge of a suitable molecular marker system for these particular plant species the odds for finding a marker system that may reveal suitable levels and patterns of variation may be rather high. Scorzoneroides (Leontodon) autumnalis (Sv.: hstfibbla). This species occurs more or less throughout the Nordic countries and is common in a wide range of grassland habitats including seashores and alpine habitats as well as roadsides and wastelands. In the current Swedish checklist, four varieties are accepted within this species, mainly based on variation in the indumentum of the phyllaries and the dentation of the leaves, but additional infra-specific taxa with different ranks have been described in the past and there are many additional polymorphic characters in this species. Two of the varieties are believed to be predominantly arctic-alpine, one is believed to dominate in the lowlands and one is believed to be confined to seashores, but abbarent morphotypes that dont fit into these taxa are quite commonly found and both their circumscription and distribution is largely uncertain. No thorough taxonomic revision or morphometric analysis of these taxa has ever been made. Erigeron acris (Sv.: grbinka). This species has scattered occurencies throughout most of the Nordic area and is found in a variety of different dry and open habitats including sandy heathlands, steep and rocky sites, exposed subalpine habitats and ruderal lowland habitats. The species is highly polymorphic with respect to multiple morphological characters (e.g. indumentum, branching pattern and pigmentation) and it has been suggested that parts of this variation is due to introgression from related species and/or repeated immigration from different isolated glacial refugia. In the current Swedish checklist, 6 subspecies are accepted within this species, mainly based on a Finnish study from the 1950s, but their geographic distribution in the Nordic countries is largely unknown and while some of these subspecies appear very difficult to keep separated some others appear so distinct that it is difficult to understand why they should not deserve the rank of independent species. Thus, a thorough morphometric study is much needed to evaluate the status of these taxa and their geographic distribution needs to be clarified. Cirsium arvense (Sv.: kertistel). This common species occurs both on seashores and in various ruderal and agricultural habitats almost throughout the Nordic countries. Within the species there is a pronounced polymorphism with respect to the dentation and spinyness of the leaves. In addition to this there is one morphotype with almost glabrous lower leaf surfaces and another type whose leaves are densely grayish-whooly below. Three varietes within this species are currently recognized in the checklist of Swedish species and there is an obvious geographic and ecological component in this variation with one variety mainly found on seashores, one variety dominating in agricultural habitats in the southwestern parts of the area and another dominating further to the north and east. However, to what extent the pattern of variation in the above mentioned characters correlate with variation in other characters is generally unexplored and the precise geographic distribution of the varieties is still largely unknown as they have not got much attention in recent floristic inventories.
Molecular systematics of Clitellata
(Annelida, segmented worms)
The overall aim of our research is to establish a classification of Clitellata (or Oligochaeta) that is congruent with a well-supported set of hypotheses of the clitellate Tree of life, including its deep as well as terminal nodes. The big picture deals with the phylogenetic position of Clitellata within the Annelida and the basal evolutionary history of the clitellate families and other higher taxa, such as Crassiclitellata (the earthworms). At the other end of the spectrum are the delimitation and identification of separately evolving metapopulation lineages (=species), primarily using a combination of rapidly evolving mitochondrial and nuclear genes. A number of widely distributed morphospecies of Clitellata, showing preliminary evidence of cryptic speciation are studied, and the amount of genetic within and between lineages will be analyzed. Morphological variation and ecological differences are also be evaluated when possible or necessary (as in the case of asexual species). We can offer a number of Masters projects (30, 45 or 60 credit points) dealing with taxonomy and phylogeny of selected groups of terrestrial, freshwater or marine clitellates.
Evolution of hummingbird pollination in tetraploid Silene spp.
(North American Silene spp.; Caryophyllaceae)
We have in previous studies found that the large variation in e.g., ecology, morphology, and pollination exhibited by North American Silene species probably all stems back to a single polyploidization event in the Quarternary. However, reconstruction of the the species phylogeny was comprimised by the polyploidy. We now have developed a model to cope with this, and in this project you will specifically trace the origins of hummingbird pollination syndrome in the group. For calibration of the timescale, we will try to use fossil DNA sampled from permafrost. You will collaborate various aspects with scientists from USA, Germany, Scotland, and Norway. To be conducted with the Botany building research group.
Species delimitation in wild Dahlias
(Dahlia coccinea & allies; Asteraceae)
The genus Dahlia comprises about 35 species in Central and South America, with a centre of diversity in Mexico. Over 10,000 cultivars are known today and widely cultivated worldwide. The tubers of some species are used as starch source and consumed locally. Despite a tremendous variation in the cultivated forms, they are all believed to have originated from the crossing between 2 wild species, including Dahlia coccinea. This project aims at using NGS data to i) testing whether D. coccinea constitutes a monophyletic clade (is a good species); ii) assessing whether naturally occurring colour variants are phylogenetically clustered (form natural groups); and iii) estimating the environmental requirements of the species and assessing whether it will expand or contract under future climate change. Sampling of living specimens will be done from living collections at the Botanical gardens in Gothenburg, Copenhagen and Hamburg. To be conducted with the Botany building research group.
What is Gentianella baltica (Murb.) Börner?
(Gentianella baltica, G. campestris; Gentianaceae)
Gentianella baltica is a red-listed plant occurring at some locations on the Swedish westcoast. It is very similar to G. campestris, and differs mainly by being annual and flowering late in the season,instead overwintering as a rosette. You will test the genetic distictiveness using next-generation sequence data from several populations, and also from other closely related taxa. You will collect G. baltica in the field during September-October, and also use herbarium material. To be conducted with the Botany building research group.
Testing species boundaries in Mediterranean mediks
(Medicago intertexta complex; Fabaceae)
The Medicago intertexta complex is a group of annual medik species with four names generally applied (M. ciliaris, M. granadensis, M. intertexta and M. muricoleptis). However, there are two pairs of taxa that are very difficult to distinguish from one another, suggesting that the species boundaries as currently used may not reflect biological reality. These taxa are found distributed around the Mediterranean basin, from North Africa, southern Europe and to the margins of the Middle East. This project aims to generate NGS gene tree and codominant marker data from several dozen loci to test (a) the species boundaries, and (b) possible hybridisation where these taxa appear to overlap in their distributions. Sampling will be done using existing collections housed in public seed banks that have been made from across the range of the group. The student will participate in generating the data and undertake population genetic and phylogenetic analyses using methods based on the coalescent. To be conducted with the Botany building research group.
Contact/supervisor – Bernard Pfeil
Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences University of Gothenburg
University of Copenhagen
No projects available at the moment.
University of Oslo
No projects available at the moment.
Norwegian University of Science and Technology
No projects available at the moment.