Understanding the mechanisms and evolution of drought tolerance in plants is crucial to support the development of drought-tolerant crops, assess the vulnerability of wild species to climate change, and ensure that drought-tolerant genotypes are included in conservation programmes. Comparative studies including model crop species and their more variable wild relatives show great potential to progress the understanding of complex traits such as drought tolerance.
A good model to perform such studies is the Phoenix genus, which includes the culturally and economically important date palm crop, and thirteen wild species occurring in habitats that vary in aridity. However, the phylogenetic relationships and drought tolerance of Phoenix species have not been elucidated so far. This slows down the development of less water-demanding date palm cultivars, and prevents robust estimations of how wild species may suffer from future aridification.
We will therefore 1) characterize the drought tolerance of Phoenix species, 2) investigate how genetic and morphological characters associated with drought tolerance evolved in the genus, and 3) assess the vulnerability of Phoenix species to climate change. This will inform the development of a resilient and sustainable date palm agriculture, set the stage for further studies of drought tolerance in palms, and support the conservation of wild Phoenix species.
This multidisciplinary project will combine phylogenetics, biogeography, genomics and ecophysiology, and involve sampling in botanical gardens, anatomical and molecular lab work, and bioinformatics. The cultural, gender and institutional diversity of the supervisory committee, and its multidisciplinary expertise will ensure that the student is exposed to diverse schools of thoughts and acquires a wide set of skills, many of them being transferable to non-academic careers. In particular, RBG, Kew provides a rich environment where the student will learn about all aspects of biodiversity research and conservation, from fundamental research to impact on the ground.
Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in subjects such as Environmental or Natural Sciences. Applicants with first class degrees and/or high-quality Masters qualifications are especially encouraged to apply.