PhD in evolutionary ecology of chemical defences available

We invite applications for a PhD position to join an exciting new research group studying the evolutionary ecology of chemical defences, based at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany.


Chemically defended organisms communicate their unprofitability to potential predators with conspicuous warning signals - aposematism. A profitability spectrum among chemically defended organisms may be important in shaping ecological communities and interactions among species.  For example, variability in chemical defences can switch the evolutionary dynamics of signalling systems from mutualistic to parasitic, from signal monomorphism to signal diversity. But what constitutes unprofitability, and how important is it in shaping interactions among species? We investigate these questions using a combination of laboratory experiments and field studies.   

The standard black box approach to predator physiology cannot shed light on the mechanisms by which the chemical defences of prey have their effect. Opening the black box is vital if we want to understand (i) the processes that have selected for critical sensory abilities in consumers, and (ii) how chemical defences change organism behaviour and physiology. We will research the effects of consuming chemically defended prey using vertebrate and invertebrate predators. This will provide an opportunity to research adaptive evolution at the molecular and phenotypic level, and to explore the evolutionary ecology of variation in defences.

The project will utilise techniques such as: working with specialist and generalist invertebrate or vertebrate predators/consumers; toxicokinetics; identification and cloning of genes; quantitative real-time RT-PCR; heterologous expression techniques; and bioinformatics procedures including comparative analyses.  

The starting date is negotiable, starting from March 2018. The working language in the group is English (German skills are not essential). Candidates should have proficiency in both written and spoken English. We are an inclusive and diverse institute, and we encourage applications from women, people with disabilities, and all under-represented minority groups.

PhD students (3 years fully funded) should have a master’s degree or 1st class honours degree in zoology, ecology, or related subjects. Applicants with a background in chemistry or computer science, who have demonstrated an interest in biology, are also strongly encouraged to apply. Experience of independent research in a related area is highly desirable.  Positions are fully funded, and open for applicants from all nationalities, including non-E.U.


Applicants should send a single pdf file comprising of a cover letter with a - statement of their research interests, a C.V. (including publication list), and the names and contact details of at least one referee. Please send this to Dr Hannah Rowland (hrowland [at] Applications will be accepted up to and including December 13th 2017 with interviews conducted in January 2018.

For more information contact hrowland [at] 


The lab is based at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology (MPI-CE), in Jena, Germany:

PhD students will be encouraged to join the International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) for 'The Exploration of Ecological Interactions with Molecular and Chemical Techniques. The official language of the program is English. Website: