Thank you for your interest in joining my research group. This page is regularly updated with opportunities for prospective PhD students and postdocs. Feel free to contact me at natalie.pilakouta@abdn.ac.uk if you are interested in any of these positions or if you want to discuss other possibilities.

PhD opportunities

Ageing and parental care: what are the (physiological) costs of being a parent?

BBSRC-funded 4-year project, supervised by Dr Natalie Pilakouta, Dr Thomas Bodey, Dr Mike Ritchie, and Dr Jacob Moorad

Parental care is beneficial for the offspring but energetically demanding for the parents. High investment in parental care may therefore come at a cost, such as a faster rate of ageing due to increased oxidative stress and telomere attrition. Yet, the underlying molecular mechanisms linking parental care to ageing remain understudied despite being highly relevant to human health. This PhD project will use an original invertebrate model system, the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides, to address this research gap. Burying beetles have facultative biparental care, which means that in some broods both parents provide care, whereas in other broods, there is female-only care, male-only care, or no care. This flexible parental care system provides an excellent opportunity to experimentally test the physiological costs of being a parent.

This PhD project will focus on three key aims to better understand the molecular mechanisms linking parental care to ageing:

(1) Investigate what factors drive variation in oxidative stress and telomere attrition among parents during care

(2) Identify ageing-related genes that are differentially expressed among parents

(3) Test whether supplementation with antioxidants can alleviate the physiological costs of parental care

You can check this link for more details about the project and instructions for how to apply.

 

Linking individual-level behaviour to ecosystem-level processes to understand the effects of anthropogenic environmental change

NERC-funded 3.5-year project, supervised by Dr Natalie Pilakouta, Dr Isabella Capellini, and Dr Sheena Cotter

This project integrates animal behaviour and ecosystem ecology. More specifically, it focuses on how obligate scavengers (burying beetles) influence ecosystem processes through their parental behaviours, and how this might be affected by environmental change. Burying beetles breed on carcasses of small vertebrates and have elaborate parental care, which includes depositing antimicrobial substances on the carcasses to prevent bacterial and fungal growth. The antimicrobial secretions of these beetles slow down the decomposition of the carcass, allowing the offspring to feed on the carcass for 7-10 days. Recent work has shown that through the deposition of these antimicrobial substances and its effects on carcass decomposition, burying beetles can improve soil fertility.

 

This PhD project will investigate how changes in environmental conditions might influence parental care (i.e. antimicrobial secretion deposition) and in turn soil characteristics/ecosystem-level processes. Overall, the aim of this project is to help us understand how the capacity of invertebrates to perform ecosystem services, such as nutrient cycling in the soil, is influenced by environmental change and how we might be able to mitigate these effects.

You can check this link for more details about the project and instructions for how to apply.

Environmental effects on inbreeding depression

Self-funded 3-year project, supervised by Dr Natalie Pilakouta and Dr Greta Bocedi

Inbreeding is an important issue in evolutionary biology and ecology because of its profound implications for genetic variation and the evolution of mating systems and reproductive strategies. Inbreeding results from matings between relatives and typically leads to a reduction in offspring fitness, known as inbreeding depression. However, there is substantial variation in the severity of inbreeding depression among species as well as among and within populations of a species. This variation may be partly driven by differences in the physical or social environment, which can have a major effect on the severity of inbreeding depression.

Given the unprecedented rate of human-induced environmental changes around the world, it is important to understand how changes in environmental conditions might influence the expression and evolution of inbreeding depression. This PhD project will examine the effects of both abiotic environmental components and biotic environmental components on inbreeding depression. The project will be entirely computer-based, combining meta-analytic and theoretical modelling approaches. It is possible for the project to be conducted remotely for part of it or its entire duration.

You can check this link for more details about the project and instructions for how to apply.

postdoctoral opportunities

I am not currently advertisting any postdoctoral positions, but I am always happy to support exceptional postdocs who are interested in applying for external fellowships to join the lab. Prospective postdocs are welcome to contact me directly to discuss project ideas and funding options.

lab values

Our research group champions inclusivity and diversity, and we welcome applicants from diverse backgrounds. We believe enjoyable and high-quality research can only be done in a safe and supportive environment. We do not tolerate discrimination, harassment, or bullying of any form in our group.

While striving to conduct cutting-edge research, we believe that work-life balance is essential and we prioritise mental health. A happier scientist is a better scientist.