We are looking for TWO excellent Ph.D. students!

PhD projects in mitonuclear ecology, genetics, and behaviour

TWO fully-funded Ph.D. positions are available for projects that will seek to understand how genetic variation within the mitochondrial genome influences organism performance, life history, and evolution.

The projects will involve testing emerging hypotheses from the rapidly growing field known as “mitonuclear ecology,” which explores how mitochondrial genetics and biochemistry (driven by interacting mitochondrial and nuclear genomes) influence fundamental behavioural, ecological, and evolutionary processes—from the complex pre-copulatory behaviours associated with mating to reproductive outcomes to ageing.

Project 1 will address the physiological and behavioural consequences of variation in mitochondrial performance. The project will test new hypotheses for how mitochondrial function affects individual “quality” and thereby mating behaviour; depending on student experience and interests, the project can test these hypotheses from the bottom up (biochemistry/physiology) and/or the top down (evolutionary/behavioural ecology).

Project 2 will address the genotypic contributions of mitochondrial and nuclear genomes (and their interactions) to sex differences in organismal life history, from reproductive performance to longevity. This project will explore the functional consequences of mito-nuclear genetic variation, with a focus on testing an evolutionary hypothesis known as “Mother’s Curse"--i.e, that maternal inheritance of mitochondria has led to the accumulation of mutations within the mitochondrial DNA sequence that confer harm to males, but which are benign or beneficial in effect to females.

Both projects will integrate techniques and experimental designs drawn from evolutionary biology, ecology, genetics, and physiology. A key tool will be genetic strains of fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) in which different mitochondrial DNA haplotypes have been introgressed alongside a diverse set of nuclear DNA backgrounds. This system offers the invaluable opportunity to separate mitochondrial and nuclear genetic effects on organismal function, exploring the downstream consequences of mitochondrial variation on individual behaviors and physiology. There will be full flexibility for the successful applicants to pursue their own academic ideas and interests within the scope of their projects.

We are seeking students who are highly motivated and passionate about evolutionary biology, the mechanistic bases of animal behaviour, and/or mitonuclear ecology; applicants should be familiar with the fundamentals of evolutionary theory and behavioural ecology. The successful candidates will be supervised by A/Prof. Damian Dowling (damiandowlinglab.com) and Dr. Rebecca Adrian (rkadrian.com) within the Experimental Evolutionary Biology Lab at Monash University’s School of Biological Sciences--a vibrant group comprising other PhD students, postdoctoral associates, and undergraduate researchers, with access to state-of-the-art technology platforms for the study of evolutionary genetics, physiology, and behaviour.

The successful applicant will be awarded a scholarship that covers salary (current rate is $27,872 AUD tax-free per year), a waiver of student fees, and the option to supplement salary through teaching assistance during undergraduate lab courses. The position includes funding for international and national conference visits and for all research costs.

Monash and the School of Biological Sciences

Monash University is a member of Australia's “Group of Eight”—a coalition of research-intensive universities—and is internationally recognized for excellence in research and teaching. The School of Biological Sciences is home to a collegial and world-class research environment, with key strengths in evolutionary ecology and genomics.


Monash University is located in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, a vibrant cultural and recreational centre that is consistently rated one of the world’s most liveable cities.

Application process

Interested candidates should send their CV, a copy of their academic transcript, and a cover letter outlining their research interests to rebecca.adrian@monash.edu and damian.dowling@monash.edu. Enquiries prior to application are welcome.

Click here for further information on Ph.D. scholarships and Monash application procedures.

Review of applications will commence immediately.

Positions are almost always available for lab volunteers, undergrad research projects, and honours projects!

Lab volunteers:

We are constantly looking for extra hands in the fly lab to help with ongoing maintenance of our genetic lines as well as carrying out experiments. Fruit fly studies inherently require a great deal of time in preparing food, sorting anesthetized flies (by sex, age, or phenotype), and moving flies into fresh homes. Lab volunteers can expect to work with me and/or Ph.D. students in the lab for at least two hours/week on a flexible schedule. Volunteering is a low-key opportunity to gain lab experience, and successful volunteers can potentially advance to paid RAships, summer/winter scholarships, or 3990/honours projects.

Undergraduate research:

Beyond the more casual research opportunities I can offer volunteers (and potentially summer/winter scholars), promising Monash University undergraduates have the opportunity to apply for a BIO3990 "Biology in action research project" in our lab. BIO3990 students engage in the full academic research process, from development to execution to write-up, in a structured and short-term setting. These small studies often build the foundation for future success in Honours degrees. I have several pocket-sized projects loosely planned for 3990 students, including:

TITLE: Do mismatching genomes impair fly climbing performance?

SYNOPSIS: Through 1-2 generations of controlled fly breeding, the student will create genetic lines of flies that differ in whether the mitochondrial genome they possess "matches" their nuclear genome. Mito-nuclear mismatch between species or subspecies has been proposed to impair physiological function, with important implications for species boundaries. Here, we will test how matched vs. mismatched flies perform on a negative geotaxis assay, using the apparatus developed in our lab.

Honours research:

The Dowling Lab welcomes enquiries from undergraduates interested in pursuing an honours degree with us. The genetic lines I have developed offer an exciting new resource for honours projects, and I am establishing several new experimental research platforms within the lab for physiological and behavioural assays. These projects are much more in-depth than BIO3990 projects, and are intended to lead to a dataset that can ultimately be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

We are currently offering TWO honours projects for 2020!

Click here to read the project descriptions, as shown in the Honours Project Handbook.

Contact me to learn more!