Master theses

Misled by the mitochondrial genome – A phylogenetic study in Topaza hummingbirds by Tobias Andermann (then Hofmann), 2015


Available master projects

Here you can find a selection of available master projects to choose from. In addition, you can contact the institution or research group of interest to get a discussion going and see what they have to offer you! Please scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to see projects offered from all the participating universities or use the anchors below.

Lund  University, Sweden

Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway

Stockholm University, Sweden

University of Copenhagen

University of Gothenburg, Sweden

University of Oslo, Norway

Uppsala University, Sweden


Uppsala University, Sweden

Fabien Burki’s research group

We aim to integrate the poorly studied protists (aka microbial eukaryotes) in global evolutionary models, using a combination of culture-independent genomic methods, analyses of environmental DNA, and phylogenetics. The main research themes in my lab are:

  • Reconstructing the eukaryotic tree of life
  • Taxonomically and phylogenetically resolving the eukaryotic environmental diversity
  • Origin and spread of photosynthesis in eukaryotes
  • The evolution of parasitism in marine invertebrates
  • Method development in single-cell genomics using microfluidics

We are constantly looking for motivated students, do not hesitate to contact me if you are interested in working on these questions.

Website for more info: https://www.burki-lab.net/


Stockholm University, Sweden

Phylogeny of a group of Acoela (marine worms)

(Acoela)

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.

Contact/supervisor: Ulf Jondelius


New species of Acoela

(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.

Contact/supervisor: Ulf Jondelius


Radiations in tropical Trichoptera

(Insects, 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.

Contact/supervisor: Kjell-Arne Johansson

Swedish Museum of Natural History

Phone: +46 (0)8 5195 4088
E-mail:kjell.arne.johanson@nrm.se
Personal website


Beetle systematics

(Insects, Coleoptera)

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.

Contact/supervisor: Johannes Bergsten

Swedish Museum of Natural History

Phone: +46 (0)8 5195 4192
E-mail:johannes.bergsten@nrm.se
Personal website


Morphology and systematics in brittle stars (Ophiuroidea)

(Echinodermata, 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.

Contact/supervisor: Sabine Stohr

Swedish Museum of Natural History

Phone: +46 (0)8 5195 5105
E-mail:sabine.stohr@nrm.se
Personal website


Morphology and systematics in Nematods

(Nematoda)

Nematodes are very diverse, abundant and ubiquitous, and play important role in ecosystem functioning and human life. This project focuses on the global diversity and evolution of free-living nematodes, and their interactions with other organisms (origin of parasitism). The putative MSc project can focus on: 1) a survey of the nematode fauna of Sweden or of New Caledonia, (2) a taxonomic study including the description of new species from around the world, or (3) metabarcoding analysis of nematode communities. It will include training in general sampling techniques, field work in Sweden, microscopy, identification, phylogenetic analysis, preparation of scientific publications.

Contact/supervisor: Oleksandr Holovachov

Swedish Museum of Natural History

Phone: +46 (0)8 5195 4273
E-mail:oleksandr.holovachov@nrm.se
Personal website


Ichtyology

(Vertebrata, Actinopterygii)

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.

Contact/supervisor: Sven Kulander

Swedish Museum of Natural History

Phone: +46 (0)8 5195 4116
E-mail:sven.kullander@nrm.se
Personal website


Cenozoic Miocene Mammals from Central Europe

(Vertebrata, Mammalia)

One research project at the Swedish Museum of Natural History deals with fossil mammals from Central Europe. The studies are focussed on the evolution, systematics, and biogeography of small mammals (insectivores, bats and rodents) during the Miocene thermal optimum about 18 million years ago. Morphologic, morphometric, and microstructure analyses are used to investigate specimens on genus and species level. Investigation includes light microscopy and scanning electron microscope, for both analysis and documentation.

Contact/supervisor: Thomas Mors

Swedish Museum of Natural History

Phone: +46 (0)8 5195 5107
E-mail:thomas.mors@nrm.se
Personal website


Projects concerning the ecological adaptations (ecomorphology) of carnivores

(Vertebrata, Mammalia)

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.

Contact/supervisor: Lars Werdelin

Swedish Museum of Natural History

Phone: +46 (0)8 5195 4202
E-mail:lars.werdelin@nrm.se
Personal website


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.

Contact/supervisor: Christian Skovsted

Swedish Museum of Natural History

Phone: +46 (0)8 5195 5133
E-mail:christian.skovsted@nrm.se
Personal website


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.

Contact/supervisor: Christian Skovsted

Swedish Museum of Natural History

Phone: +46 (0)8 5195 5133
E-mail:christian.skovsted@nrm.se
Personal website


Ancient DNA and population genetics

(Vertebrata, Mammalia)

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

Contact/supervisor: Love Dalen

Swedish Museum of Natural History
Centre for Palaeogenetics

Phone: +46 (0)8 5195 4281
E-mail:love.dalen@nrm.se
Personal website


Museomics and avian evolution

(Vertebrata, Passeriformes)

The research group for avian systematics at the Swedish Museum of Natural History use genomic data to study the evolution of birds. Our research is mainly focused on passerine birds in the Indo-Pacific region and the questions we address span from phylogenetics and biogeography to hybridization and population genetics.  We welcome one or several students to participate in this work.  In a typical project the student will map genomic data from museum samples against a de novo reference genome and then use the aligned data set to address specific evolutionary questions.

Contact/supervisor – Martin Irestedt

Swedish Museum of Natural History

Phone: +46 (0)8 5195 4059
E-mail:martin.irestedt@nrm.se
Personal website


Lund University, Sweden

Patterns of morphometric variation and infra-specific taxonomy of a highly polymorphic Nordic vascular plant species

(Composits, Asteraceae)

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 or groups of 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 such species or group of species, 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. Depending on the species chosen, the study area may also be extended to regions outside of the Nordic countries. 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. Taxonomically complex or interesting species that would need to studied in this way include, but is not restricted to, Platanthera bifolia, Allium schoenoprasum, Bromus hordeaceus, Caltha palustris, Ranunculus polyanthemos, Ranunculus subborealis, Thalictrum minus, Thalictrum simplex, Anthylllis vulneraria, Lathyrus japonicus, Vicia sepium, Polygala vulgaris, Geum rivale, Potentilla argentea, Viola canina, Rumex acetosa, Veronica maritima/spicata, Pedicularis palustris, Campanula rotundifolia, Achillea millefolium, Carlina vulgaris, Cirsium arvense, Erigeron uniflorus, Gnaphalium uiginosum, Gnaphalium norvegicum/sylvaticum, Leucanthemum irkutianum/vulgare, Solidago virgaurea, Sonchus arvensis, Tripeurospermum maritimum and Valeriana sambucifolia. Yet another option would be to study the circumscription of the morphologically defined sections of the genus Hieracium.

Contact/supervisor – Torbjörn Tyler

Department of Biology, Botanical collections, Lund University

Phone: +46 (0)46 222 4234
E-mail:torbjorn.tyler@biol.lu.se
Personal website


University of Gothenburg, Sweden

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.

Contact/supervisor – Christer Ersus, Professor emeritus

Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences University of Gothenburg

Phone: +46 (0)31 786 3645
E-mail:christer.erseus@bioenv.gu.se
Personal website


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.

Contact/supervisor – Bengt Oxelman

Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences University of GothenburgPhone: +46 (0)31 786 2678
E-mail:bengt.oxelman@bioenv.gu.se
Personal website


What is Gentianella baltica (Murb.) Börner?

(Gentianella balticaG. 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.

Contact/supervisor – Bengt Oxelman

Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences University of GothenburgPhone: +46 (0)31 786 2678
E-mail:bengt.oxelman@bioenv.gu.se
Personal website


Patterns in the accumulation of genetic data

Diversity, evolution, spatial patterns

Very few organism groups have genetic data for all or even for a large fraction of the species and analyses of diversity patterns therefore have to make assumptions about the placement of the missing species. For computational convenience and due to lack of knowledge it is generally assumed that they are placed randomly in the phylogeny even though there are good reasons to expect this to be wrong. In this project we wish to analyze the pattern of accumulation of genetic data among species to better understand what determines what species have and does not have genetic data in order to enable researchers to better include the missing species into evolutionary or ecological analyses

For this master project familiarity with spatial analyses, with the program R and with basic bioinformatics or phylogenetics is desired but not required.

Contact: Søren Faurby, soren.faurby@bioenv.gu.se


Co-extinction of scavengers and prey

Birds, mammals, diversity, spatial patterns

Highest species richness of scavenging brids is currenty found in east Africa, just at the same area where most of the large mammals occur. Scavenging birds, however, also have seen a massive extinction in the Late-Pleistocne/Early-Holocene and in particular they used to be hihgly diverse in North and South America, feeding on the likewise diverse mammalian megafauna community that used to live there. The goal of this project is to estimate historic ranges of the extinct scavenging birds and compare these with previously estimated ranges for their mammalian prey. After this we will analyse the correlation between the historical diversities of scavenging birds and prey and compare with the contemporary pattern for both. Many scavenging birds are highly endangered and the resulting knowledge may both improve the understanding of co-extinction patterns as well as hopefully inform ongoing conservation efforts to avoid future extinctions.

This project will be conducted in collaboration with and co-supervised by post-doc Ferran Sayol.

For this master project familiarity with spatial analyses and with the program R is desired but not required.

Contact: Søren Faurby, soren.faurby@bioenv.gu.se


Mismatch between pollinators and plants

Extinction, islands, birds, pollination, plant-animal interactions

Oceanic islands have seen very large extinction rates, with as much as 90% of all extinct birds being island dwellers. As a function of this, many other species may potentially suffer in the future, as in the case of red flowered plants, which generally are exclusively bird pollinated. The goal of this project is to identify the fraction of plant species on various oceanic islands being red (and therefore likely bird pollinated) and compare these ratios with the recent diversity of pollinating birds as well as estimates of historic diversities of birds on islands, which are being estimated by post-doc Ferran Sayol. We will thereby be able to identify islands with a deficit of current pollinators, which therefore may be of particular conservation concern.

This project will be conducted in close collaboration with island biologist Manual Steinbauer (goo.gl/UEiG7T).

For this master project familiarity with spatial analyses and with the program R is desired but not required.

Contact: Søren Faurby, soren.faurby@bioenv.gu.se


Human alternation of the species-area relationship

Extinction, invasive species, islands, ecological rules, birds

As discussed above, there has been substantial extinctions of birds on islands, but at the same time a large number of non-native species has also been introduced to many islands. This project will analyze the combined effect of these two opposing factors and focus on the species-area relationship, which is one of the fundamental patterns of island biogeography. More specifically, the goal is to compare the relationship between island area and the number of bird species using three different datasets. 1) Current pattern including non-native species, 2) Current pattern only including native species and 3) Estimated pattern including current and extinct native birds.

This project will be conducted in collaboration with and co-supervised by post-doc Ferran Sayol and in in collaboration with bird macro-ecologist Tim Blackburn (goo.gl/9LWXfk)

For this master project familiarity with spatial analyses and with the program R is desired but not required.

Contact: Søren Faurby, soren.faurby@bioenv.gu.se


Global distribution of palm spinescence and mega-herbivores

Palms, animal-plant interactions, macroecology

To quantify the global distribution of spinescence in palms (e.g. broad-scale patterns of species richness of palms that have spines) and how this is related to the current and historical distribution of mega-herbivores. Many palms are armed, often fiercely, with spines (as in Aiphanes minima, pictured here). These likely evolved as a response to mega-herbivores as defense structures. Here, we will ask, where are global hotpots of spinescence in palms? Is the distribution of spinescence related to the distribution of extant and extinct mammalian mega-herbivores?

For this master project in plant evolution, familiarity with spatial analyses and with the program R is desired but not required.

Contact: Christine Bacon, christine.bacon@bioenv.gu.se


Developing models for rainforest evolution

Evolution, tropical forest, diversity patterns

Palms have been recorded in the fossil history of tropical rainforests since they first emerged (see Wing et al. 2009, depicted below). Along with other mega-thermal angiosperms, those that are frost-intolerant and have physiological requirements that largely constrain them to tropical environments, they have been proposed as models for rainforest evolution.In this project we explicitly test the idea of palms being models for tropical rainforest presence or absence at a global-scale. Using data from transects, we test whether their distribution matches current tropical biomes at various geographical scales.

For this master project in evolution/conservation, familiarity with spatial analyses and with the program R is desired but not required.

Contact: Christine Bacon, christine.bacon@bioenv.gu.se


University of Copenhagen, Denmark

No projects available at the moment.


University of Oslo, Norway

No projects available at the moment.


Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway

Bryophytes

Our primary research goal is to get a better understanding of processes leading to speciation in bryophytes. For this we combine state-of-the-art genomic resources and bioinformatics, and extensive knowledge of the biology of these organisms. We have for long used peatmosses (Sphagnum) as our main study system. The major process leading to speciation in peatmosses seem to be ecological specialization, and adaptions to both water-level-gradient (the hollow-hummock gradient), and water chemistry (rich fens versus rain water fed bogs). In addition, peatmosses show many examples of spontaneous speciation by chromosome doubling (allopolyploidization).

Projects

  • Speciation of bryophytes and the evolutionary significance of allopolyploidy
  • Glaciations and the existence of refugia within the Scandinavian ice sheet – which bryophytes survived within the ice sheet?
  • Peat cores – historical development of mires plant communities through time, revealed by DNA metabarcoding
  • Taxonomy of bryophytes, species delimitation and relationships

Contact Kristian Hassel or Hans K. Stenøien for more information.

Phylogenomics and taxonomy of the ragweeds (genus Ambrosia)

The ragweeds (Asteraceae, genus Ambrosia) are a group of about 40 species of plants adapted to wind-pollination and largely native to North America. The center of diversity of this genus appears to be in the Sonoran Desert region of North America, although some species are widespread throughout North America, and others occur mostly in South America. Some species are desert plants, and many are also weedy pioneers. The most successful and widespread Ambrosia weed is the globally distributed invasive species Ambrosia artemisiifolia (common ragweed), which belongs to a highly specialized complex whose members range across North America. The evolutionary relationships between ragweed species are confused, especially in collections from the Caribbean, S. America, Europe, and West Africa.

The interested student can design a master project using low-depth genomic sequencing and de novo assembly tools to generate a whole chloroplast genome sequence for each member of the genus Ambrosia. Phylogenomic analyses will be conducted at chloroplast and high-copy nuclear genomic regions in an attempt to resolve the evolutionary relationships in this taxonomically difficult genus. Special focus may be given to A. maritima, which has a curious distribution in southern Europe, Israel, and possibly Africa, and may be the only ragweed species naturalized in the Old World, and may have been introduced to Israel by human activity in ancient times.

Contact Mike Martin for more information.

Genetic diversity in closely related non-biting midges

Non-biting midges (Diptera: Chironomidae) is one of the most species rich insect families on earth and many species are difficult to separate. Thus, identification using standard genetic markers (so-called DNA barcoding) is particularly useful when studying diversity of non-biting midges. Recent studies have shown that midge species diversity is larger than originally thought based on morphological analyses. This cryptic diversity will be investigated through several student projects that are focused on species groups with northern distributions.

The main goal will be to investigate if separate populations of selected midge species can be separated genetically and morphologically, and if they should be regarded as separate species.

Some fieldwork in Norway or other Nordic countries will be an advantage, but not necessarily required due to our existing comprehensive collection at the NTNU University Museum. Practical work includes collection, sorting, slide mounting and identification of all life stages. The projects involve digital microscopy and molecular analyses in the laboratory facilities at the museum. Data will be analysed using available phylogenetic, bioinformatic and biogeographic tools.

Contact Elisabeth Stur or Torbjørn Ekrem for more information.

Reindeer genomics from ancient DNA

The origin of the domestic reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) is controversial and still unsettled. Past studies of genetic diversity in Europe and Asia indicate there may have been up to three major domestication events in the history of reindeer husbandry. The interested student can design a master project consisting of one or more of these elements: (1) Extract ancient DNA from well-preserved ancient European reindeer bones and apply next-generation sequencing technologies. (2) Use de-novo assembly tools to generate whole mitochondrial genome sequences. (3) Perform phylogenomic and population analyses in order to reconstruct the history of migration and domestication in European reindeer.

Broadly, you will learn genomics, bioinformatics and evolutionary biology. These skills will be relevant if you want an academic position (PhD) but also for non-academic positions (bioinformatics, DNA sequencing).

We offer a friendly, supportive and kind mentoring environment. We offer a membership in ForBio (the research school in biosystematics) where you will be able to take courses in several places in Norway. You will be able to attend international courses, the ForBio national conference (ForBio meeting) and potentially in an international conference depending on funding. If you are interested, we will be able to discuss travel opportunities and a travelling period abroad. Expected outcomes include one scientific publication and one conference communication.

Contact Mike Martin for more information.

Genetic diversity and species boundaries in biting midges (Ceratopogonidae)

The biting midges (Ceratopogonidae) are tiny flies which are represented in the world fauna by 6 subfamilies, 131 genera and over 6500 extant and fossil species. Except for the Antarctic, the recent biting midges are found on all continents. Larvae of the biting midges live in a wide range of aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats such as lakes, ponds, rivers, springs, swamps, peat bogs, pools, or wet soil. They inhabit freshwater, marine and inland saltwater. Some species are truly terrestrial and are found under bark, in sap oozing from trees, rotting plants and fungi, among wet mosses and algae, in ant nests and animal dung.

The main goal of the thesis is to investigate if populations of Dasyhelea modesta should be regarded as separate species. Dasyhelea modesta is characterised by rather unique pupae, adult males and females, at least at first glance. However, the species currently has as many as eight younger synonyms, described from various parts of the Palaearctic Region. Although this species seems to be well-defined morphologically, specimens from different populations show significant divergence in DNA sequence data.

This project will include fieldwork and use the collection at the NTNU University Museum. Practical work includes collection, sorting, slide mounting and identification of all life stages. The projects involve digital microscopy and molecular analyses. Data will be analysed using available phylogenetic, bioinformatic and biogeographic tools.

Contact Elisabeth Stur or Torbjørn Ekrem for more information.

Species delimitations in selected groups of beetles (Coleoptera) in northern Europe

The beetle fauna in northern Europe is generally well known when it comes to taxonomic borders between species, but still there are difficult taxonomic complexes where species limits are discussed or controversial. Modern methods with use of molecular data combined with traditional methods provide unique possibilities to resolve such research questions today.

We propose a study combining morphological measurements and data from different gene segments of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA to infer phylogenetic relationship. Material would be available from museum collections, private collections and own field work. There are several possibilities for choosing a species complex among insects for a master thesis in this topic, but we advice to choose a complex where material is easy to obtain and specimens are not too small and difficult to handle.

Contact Frode Ødegaard for more information.

Marine biology

We explore the fauna, species diversity and distribution along the Norwegian coast and in the deep Norwegian Sea. Projects will include taxonomy of different marine organisms, description of species, and assessment of diversity. We regularly find species new to science and learn a lot about species’ distribution that previously have been overlooked or never dealt with. Through morphological and molecular dentification of specimens we make descriptions and keys for identification. Integrated with DNA barcoding, new insight in our diversity is assessed, often leading to higher diversity measures than we thought we had. Would you like to contribute to obtain a better understanding of our marine biodiversity?

You will learn: identification of species by morphology and DNA barcoding; field work, use of different methods and sampling gear; use GIS to assess distribution; how scientific collections in museums work, and contribute to them; assess nature types. Sampling methods may include both traditional gear for soft and hard bottom habitats, but also technology using under water robotics.

Contact Torkild Bakken for more information.

Eat, sleep, evolve; repeat: Understanding convergent evolution across the tree of life

Convergent evolution, or the “re-evolution” of phenotypes across the tree of life is a fascinating yet poorly understood phenomenon. Some of the most known examples are, e. g., bodies of marine mammals; and tree-like shapes. In this project you will, 1) mine the literature to find how many traits have “convergently evolved”; 2) obtain estimates of the time of divergence and trait evolution; 3) procure the genetic origin of these traits; 4) do statistics on your findings!

Broadly, you will learn macroevolution, evolvability, and evolutionary biology. These skills will be relevant if you want an academic position (PhD) but also for non-academic positions (using statistics, data mining, etc.).

We offer a friendly, supportive and kind mentoring environment. We offer a membership in ForBio (the research school in biosystematics) where you will be able to take courses in several places in Norway. You will be able to attend international courses, the ForBio national conference (ForBio meeting) and potentially in an international conference depending on funding. If you are interested, we will be able to discuss travel opportunities and a travelling period abroad. Expected outcomes include one scientific publication and one conference communication.

Contact Mike Martin for more information.

Genome evolution and the evolution of transposable elements (TEs) on the Galápagos Scalesia plant radiation

Archipelagos offer an incredible opportunity to understand evolution, and it was not by coincidence that Darwin and Wallace came up with the theory of natural selection independently in archipelagos (Darwin: Galápagos Archipelago; Wallace: Malay Archipelago). The small number of colonizers, elevated extinction dynamics, and environmental heterogeneity leads to novel selective pressures, allowing e.g. daisies to evolve into trees (Scalesia), crabs spanning one meter (coconut crabs), and mammoths the size of humans, among other fantastic cases.

One hypothesis related to island evolution is the “genome shock hypothesis”. As species encounter novel selective pressures, the genome can experience re-organization and structural changes. Part of these changes may involve the proliferation of transposable elements, “selfish” DNA elements that proliferate by copying themselves and jumping around the genome. In this project, you’ll use genomic data to test for the proliferation of transposable elements across the radiation of Scalesia, a group of plants that evolved to become a shrub to shrubs and trees.

Broadly, you will learn genomics, genome evolution, bioinformatics and evolutionary biology. This includes understanding sequencing technologies, transposable element evolution. These skills will be relevant if you want an academic position (PhD) but also for non-academic positions (in bioinformatics).

We offer a friendly, supportive and kind mentoring environment. We offer a membership in ForBio (the research school in biosystematics) where you will be able to take courses in several places in Norway. You will be able to attend international courses, the ForBio national conference (ForBio meeting) and potentially in an international conference depending on funding. If you are interested, we will be able to discuss travel opportunities and a travelling period abroad. Expected outcomes include one scientific publication and one conference communication.

Contact Mike Martin for more information.

Herbarium metagenomics: What’s living on my specimen – and since when?

You may have heard that humans and other animals harbour a specific metagenomic community. For example, there are specific microbes in the gut that help us digest food or on the skin that protect us from pathogens. Plants are no exception to this. They also have associated microbes that live e.g on the leaves or on/in the roots and have a similar function as skin and gut microbes in humans/animals. Due to changes e.g. in climate, fertilization and pesticide use, the microbial communities may have changed over time. To look at these temporal changes, historica herbarium specimens may be used. However, these specimens were collected up to several hundred years ago. During sample preparation and storage, some microbes, for example mold fungi, may have contaminated the specimens, thus making it difficult to disentangle changes in the microbial community from herbarium contamination. Indeed, it has been found that several taxa may be common in herbarium specimens and are not part of the natural community.

In this project, we want to figure out which taxa contaminate the specimens and during which step they are introduced. This includes collecting several plant specimens in the field, preparing herbarium specimens (pressing and drying), taking samples for DNA extraction at several different stages, processing the samples in the lab and bioinformatic analysis of the data.

This project includes field work, lab work and computer work and will give you a good insight into the different working fields of biologists. Please contact Vanessa Bieker and/or Mike Martin for questions.


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