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Postdoctoral position at Stellenbosch University

 Postdoctoral position in island biogeography (ecological interaction networks)

Understanding the historic biogeographic processes that shaped current species distributions, and thus the evolution of different biotas, has become a central theme in ecology. Such knowledge is crucial for understanding how biodiversity is generated and maintained and for developing effective management strategies. Specifically, biogeography is assumed to play an important role in the structure of biological interaction webs (mutualisms, antagonisms, etc.) and their co-evolutionary histories. This assumption remains difficult to test under field conditions. 

Truly puzzling and curious examples of biogeographic anomalies exist in nature; these are ideal systems for testing how biological interactions have diverged and the extent to which geography explains these patterns. For example, the diverse and speciose genus Acacia Mill. (sensu stricto; previously grouped in Acacia subgenus Phyllodineae) consists of about 1012 species, most of them confined to Australia, with a few taxa found in south-east Asia and Oceania. Two particularly peculiar extra-Australian taxa are the closely-related island endemics Acacia koa A. Gray found in the Hawaiian Islands in the Pacific Ocean and A. heterophylla Willd. from La Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean. This geographic disparity is truly remarkable, with ca. 18 000 km separating these two insular landmasses. What makes this even more interesting is that these two species are considered each other’s closest living relatives. Recent work in our laboratory has revealed that A. heterophylla from La Réunion Island represents a secondary colonization event from the Hawaiian Islands and is therefore the same species as A. koa (Le Roux et al. 2014). These two taxa therefore represent one of the most astonishing examples of long-distance dispersal. 

This project will aim to compare and better understand the ecological interaction networks of these two island endemics by studying their interactions with other biota (fungi and insects) in their native ranges (Hawaii and La Réunion Island). This research will shed light on how quickly speciation can happen and to what extent geographic isolation can shape evolutionary trajectories of interaction networks. 

Preference will be given to applicants with training in mycology and/or entomology and having a broad interest in molecular ecology, genetics, and evolutionary biology. Applicants should hold a PhD degree. Preference will be given to candidates with postdoctoral research experience, demonstrated skills in one or more of the fields listed above, and an excellent academic track record (i.e. publications in international journals). Successful candidates will be fully funded for 1 year, to be extended for an additional 1-2 years depended on satisfactory performance. An attractive annual salary will be offered along with additional expenses for research, international travel and subsistence, and conference attendance. Individuals of all nationalities are eligible. Applicants should be prepared to spend extended periods in Hawaii and La Réunion Island. 

To apply, please send a CV, contact details for at least two academic references, and a brief outline of research interests to Dr Jaco Le Roux, Prof. David Richardson and Prof. Mike Wingfield by 16 February 2015. Informal inquiries are welcome. Review of applications will begin immediately, and 

short-listed candidates will be contacted to set up phone/Skype interviews. The envisaged start date for the project would be March/April 2015. 

Further reading: 

Le Roux, J.J., Strasberg, D, Rouget, M., Morden, C., Koordom, M. and Richardson, D.M. (2014) Relatedness defies biogeography: the tale of two island endemics (Acacia koa and A. heterophylla). New Phytologist 204: 230-242.

jleroux [at] sun.ac.za
rich [at] sun.ac.za
Mike.Wingfield [at] up.ac.za

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