PhD vacancy: Evolution of parasite traits in a bird-tick system

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Host-parasite interactions are considered among the most dynamic co-evolutionary processes, as host and parasite exert mutual selective pressures leading to a chain of adaptations and counter-adaptations. To understand this process, a key element is the quantification of heritable individual variation and selection pressures in both host and parasite. This PhD project uses an experimental bird-tick system where hosts have a high degree of tolerance (i.e. minimal  harm) towards a specialized parasite. In this system we will explore how parasite traits are shaped by natural selection through the study of genetic variation, trade-offs among traits, and selection pressures related to the host and the environment. Individual ticks will be followed across multiple generation in a strict breeding design, combined with controlled infestations of hosts in the lab and in the field. Using hosts with a known pedigree further allows us to bring in their phenotypic and genetic background as well. Thus, aside from field and lab work the project also involves a strong modelling component for pedigree and fitness analyses. We have ten years of experience with this study system providing a solid basis for a successful project.

Profile and requirements

  • You hold a Master degree in Biology or comparable with a strong background in ecology and evolutionary biology;
  • You can submit outstanding academic results;
  • You have a solid training in both uni- and multivariate statistical analysis;
  • Experience with parasite research, bird ringing and handling, and/or quantitative genetics is an advantage.

We offer

  • A doctoral scholarship for a period of two years, with the possibility of renewal for a further two-year period after positive evaluation;
  • The starting date of the scholarship will be February 1st 2017;
  • You will enrol in the Antwerp Doctoral School training program ( allowing you to take part in various courses, training programs and conferences within and outside the university;
  • You will work in a team of several PhD students, postdocs and technical staff involved in eco-evolutionary research on birds and bird parasites;
  • You will be member of the Evolutionary Ecology group, a dynamic and internationally-oriented research group that combines field, lab and modelling approaches to study various questions in ecological and evolutionary research, mainly focusing on birds and mammals (


  • Applicants should send their complete CV, a one-page statement of research interests and motivation for this project, and contact information of two referees who can supply letters of recommendation upon our request
  • Applications should be submitted by email to Prof. Erik Matthysen at until the closing date: 5 December 2016
  • For more information, contact Erik Matthysen at the same email adress or at (+32) 3265 3464

The University of Antwerp strives to contribute to an open, democratic and multi-cultural society. We follow an equal-opportunity policy.

For a list of all academic, administrative and technical jobs see the vacancies list of the University of Antwerp.

PhD Scholarship

We welcome applications by students who want to obtain their own funding for a PhD study. If you are interested in joining us, please contact one of our professors with a statement of interest about your research, and the scholarship programme to which you aim to apply.
Note that the University of Antwerp only offers PhD scholarships for specific research projects; these will be advertised in our vacancies section.

The main funding agency for PhD scholarships in Flanders is the FWO with two annual deadlines. The main deadline for predoctoral scholarships is February 1st. This call mainly targets fundamental innovative research. There is an additional call for strategic basic research (SB) scholarships, with a deadline on September 15th. These calls are open to all EU and EEA students. Another possibility is the VLADOC scholarships for developmentally relevant projects (see the VLIR-UOS website).

A number of other possibilities for scholarships are listed on the Scholarships pages of the University of Antwerp.

For general information on the PhD programme, see the website of the Antwerp Doctoral School.

Postdoctoral fellowships

We will welcome and give full support to postdoc applications for a Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellowship (deadline 14 september 2016) in the fields of evolutionary ecology, infectious disease ecology and conservation biology. We particularly welcome applications related to evolutionary ecology of host-parasite interactions, ecology of infectious diseases, movement ecology (dispersal, connectivity, invasive species) and landscape genomics. We will be happy to discuss possible projects and assist candidates with applications for Marie Curie funding, as well as other funding options such as FWO postdoctoral fellowships (deadline 1 February).