Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv)
Halle-Jena-Leipzig
 

Join the lab

Interested students are welcome to participate in the research conducted in our lab throughout the year. Open PhD and Postdoc positions will be announced at this page. We offer different topics for internships, bachelor and master theses and also welcome your ideas and suggestions for other thesis topics. Please find a selection of topics listed or request further topics by contacting Renske Onstein.

Internships

Students can visit our lab to perform internships at any time. Interns can learn a multitude of methods in evolutionary biology and the interchange between ecology and evolution. Interns can learn how to ask scientific questions and set up hypotheses, to design the research and collect data, and to analyse the data with statistical methods (e.g. comparative phylogenetic methods). Please send your CV and motivation to join the lab to Renske Onstein or the respective project leader. 

BSc & MSc theses

We offer many topics for bachelor and master theses in our working group. Finding the right topic is not easy and we are happy to introduce our topics to you in more detail or discuss further ideas.

Dinosaurs and cycad food

Megaherbivores (>1000 kg) have shaped terrestrial vegetation since the Jurassic, up until the Cretaceous – Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs. In this project, we will investigate whether ‘fruits’ (i.e., the ovulate strobilus) of species in the gymnosperm order Cycadales (cycads) evolved as dinosaur food, in which dinosaurs facilitated the dispersal of the cycad seeds. If dinosaurs were indeed exerting selection pressures on cycad fruits, we expect that the ancestral fruit size of cycads was large, and that (repeated) transitions to smaller fruit sizes should have taken place after the dinosaur extinctions, with potential consequences for cycad diversification. In this project, we will assemble functional trait data and apply macroevolutionary methods to assess whether cycad fruit evolution and diversification have been influenced by their interactions with dinosaurs. Previous experience with phylogenetics, paleobotany, or comparative methods is desirable. For more information, contact Renske Onstein.

Megafaunal fruits

Fruits come in many shapes, sizes, and forms. Several of these fruits seem to be adapted to dispersal by megafaunal animals that are no longer here, due to the Late Quaternary extinction of most of the world's megafauna. However, several places, such as mainland Africa, still have several species of megafauna (e.g., elephant) that could be suitable dispersers of very large, 'megafaunal' fruits. Nevertheless, it has been hypothesized that these large fruits (and seeds) may have evolved in response to selective pressures other than megafauna dispersal, such as survival in shady (tropical forest) environments. In this project, we will dissect the global spatial and phylogenetic structure of megafaunal fruits (>2500 species in our FruitDatabase), assess their association with other traits (such as fruit colour, expocarp structure, plant height, spinescence) and use statistical models to evaluate the correlation between megafaunal fruits and megafauna, climate and forests. For more information, contact Renske Onstein.

Fruit size and dispersal syndrome evolution across flowering plants

In this project, we will use our newly assembled FruitDatabase to investigate the evolution of seed dispersal syndromes (e.g., animals, wind, water, passive) and associated dispersal-relevant plant traits (e.g., fruit size) across the angiosperm tree-of-life. We expect correlated evolution between fleshy fruit size and animal dispersal (endozoochory), with increased origination rates coinciding with the radiation of particular frugivore clades, such as primates and rodents, suggesting potential co-diversification. Previous experience with phylogenetics or phylogenetic comparative methods is advantageous.In this project, we will use our newly assembled FruitDatabase to investigate the evolution of seed dispersal syndromes (e.g., animals, wind, water, passive) and associated dispersal-relevant plant traits (e.g., fruit size) across the angiosperm tree-of-life. We expect correlated evolution between fleshy fruit size and animal dispersal (endozoochory), with increased origination rates coinciding with the radiation of particular frugivore clades, such as primates and rodents, suggesting potential co-diversification. Previous experience with phylogenetics or phylogenetic comparative methods is advantageous. For more information, please contact renske.onstein@idiv.de.

Tropical fruit-frugivore community assembly

In this project, we will use our newly assembled FruitDatabase to investigate plant-frugivore seed dispersal networks in different regions and realms, including Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Madagascar and Australia. We expect differences in network properties (e.g., specialization, modularity) based on differences in trait evolution, phylogenetic composition, and defaunation in these regions. Previous experience with interaction networks, plant-frugivore interactions, functional traits, or spatial statistics is advantageous.In this project, we will use our newly assembled FruitDatabase to investigate plant-frugivore seed dispersal networks in different regions and realms, including Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Madagascar and Australia. We expect differences in network properties (e.g., specialization, modularity) based on differences in trait evolution, phylogenetic composition, and defaunation in these regions. Previous experience with interaction networks, plant-frugivore interactions, functional traits, or spatial statistics is advantageous. For more details, please contact renske.onstein@idiv.de.

Biogeography & frugivory of birds

This project investigates the global biogeography of birds in relation to deep-time geological change and the evolution of frugivory traits. Madagascar, compared to other tropical regions, is extremely poor in frugivorous birds, and we want to know why. We aim to understand when (frugivorous) birds colonised Madagascar and other (tropical) biomes, and how this may have affected in-site bird radiations in these regions. For more information, contact Renske Onstein. 

Trait-dependent extinctions

Due to ongoing climate change and human impact, many species of plants and animals are threatened with extinction. We aim to understand which plant species, which functional groups and which places are most threatened with extinction and therefore need conservation prioritisation. For more information, contact Renske Onstein.

  

Open positions

There are currenty no positions open.

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