Institute of Life and Environmental Sciences

Phd. position - Evolution of reproductive barriers in sympatric Arctic charr morphs

PhD position in biology

Institute of Life and Environmental Sciences

University of Iceland

A full PhD position in biology is open for applications, at the Institute of Life and Environmental Sciences for the project:

How is phenotypic integrity maintained in the face of gene flow? What is the effect of hybridization on development and fitness? What are the molecular mechanisms behind hybrid incompatibilities? These and related questions will be addressed by a team of researchers, and a capable PhD student responding to this advertisement.

The project

The Arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus) of Lake Thingvallavatn is ideally suited to address these questions. The Lake was formed at the end of the last glacial epoch just 11-10 thousand years ago and despite its young age it now harbors four morphs of Arctic charr, whose distinct variation in life history characteristics, behavior and trophic morphology suggest rapid adaptive diversification, possibly followed by or causing build-up of reproductive barriers. The focus of this project will be on the two smaller Thingvallavatn morphs, planktivorous- (PL) and small benthic-charr (SB), which have diverged along the limnetic - benthic ecological axis, and inhabit different parts of the lake. Breeding populations of both morphs are large and their spawning overlaps spatially and temporally seemingly presenting ample opportunities for cross-mating. Yet, population genetic studies show that they constitute distinct populations, which suggests effective reproductive barrier(s). We intend to cast light on the nature of these barriers. The central hypothesis underlying our investigation is that reproductive isolation between SB and PL Arctic charr is partly due to strong negative selection against hybrid offspring and/or differences in the exact timing of spawning (i.e. time of the day), precise spawning location and/or mating behavior. The Ph.D. project’s aims are to: i) Assess hybrid survival and fitness during embryonic and early larval development ii) Study gene expression during development of hybrid and pure morph crosses iii) Study the spawning behavior of the two morphs and their interaction in the wild and in the lab.

The applicant must have completed an M.Sc. degree in Biology or related fields from a University approved by the University of Iceland's Graduate School. Those with an advanced degree including at least a 60 ECTS credits thesis project will be given precedence. Diving experience is a plus.


We are seeking a student with dedication, drive and good theoretical background in evolution, developmental and molecular biology and an interest in animal behavior. The work involves planning and executing sampling in the field, acquisition and analysis of high-throughput sequencing data and numerical analyses, designing laboratory experiments. The position will be at the University of Iceland and the work will take place there. Experts at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland and the Hólar University College, Iceland, will also participate in the project.

Application deadline is July 15th 2017. The PhD study should be completed within four years of full time study. The PhD student may be involved in teaching, for two semesters maximum. The selected candidate will have to formally apply for PhD studies at the University of Iceland in due time.

Applicants should send a letter of intent (maximum two pages) explaining interest in working on this project, the reason to pursue a PhD, hopes to gain and learn during the PhD studies and what makes them suitable for this project to Sigurdur S. Snorrason ( They should also send a i) CV, ii) transcripts of university diplomas, iii) courses taken at bachelor and masters level, iv) degree project thesis and v) names and contact information of two persons that could provide letters of references.

The student will join the Arctic charr group at the Institute of Life and Environmental Sciences, under the supervision of Sigurdur S. Snorrason, Arnar Palsson and Zophonias O. Jonsson. The Arctic charr group consists of several PhD students and senior personnel, and has collaborators in Iceland, Denmark, Scotland and Canada. The combined expertise covers population ecology and genetics, molecular biology and bioinformatics. At the institute we have well equipped molecular biology labs, and instruments and computer pipelines for high throughput sequencing, are accessible there or at collaborating centers.

For further information contact: Kalina H. Kapralova ( or Sigurdur S. Snorrason ( Further information on Arctic charr group at the University of Iceland:

The salary for the position will be in accordance with the grant awarded from the University Research Fund.

Appointments to positions at the University of Iceland are made in consideration of the Equal Rights Policy of the University of Iceland.

At the School of Engineering and Natural Sciences 360 people are employed in research and teaching. The School offers an international environment, with the number of international employees and students increasing each year. Currently 25% of all employees and postgraduate students are international. There are around 2300 students at the School, divided into six faculties, thereof are 350 graduate students and 150 doctoral students. Research institutes at the school are the Science Institute that divides into the Institute of Earth Sciences and Institute of Physical Sciences, Institute of Life and Environmental Sciences, Engineering Research Institute and the Institute for Sustainability Studies which is an interdisciplinary institute and belongs to the five schools of the University of Iceland.

The University of Iceland is the largest teaching, research and science institute in Iceland and is ranked among the top 250 universities in the world by Times Higher Education.

Information on the University of Iceland here and Relocation Service here.


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