Monthly Archives: September 2021

Funded position for PhD student available for fall 2022

The Gompert lab in the Department of Biology at Utah State University (USU) is seeking a highly motivated and enthusiastic PhD student with interests in forecasting ecological and evolutionary processes from time-series data. Research in the lab addresses a range of fundamental questions in ecology and evolutionary biology. We are particularly interested in the ecological causes and evolutionary consequences of natural selection, the causes and consequences of genetic variation in the wild, the role of hybridization in evolution, and the nature and evolution of species boundaries and barriers to gene flow. This specific position is funded through a NSF LTREB award to Zach Gompert (and collaborator Matt Forister at the University of Nevada). A stipend will be provided via a mixture of teaching and research assistantships. Review of applicants will begin November 1, 2021. The start date for the PhD project is fall 2022.

Project Overview: The history of life on Earth has many periods of mass extinction, when many species cease to exist. These periods are usually studied through use of fossils. Although fossils have revealed a lot about extinction, they’ve been unable to solve the basic riddle of why some species go extinct and others seem unaffected. Humans are now witnessing a mass extinction event, which provides biologists an opportunity to study in real time how species differ in their responses to climate change and other stressors. Some may go extinct within our lifetimes; others won’t. This project builds on one of North America’s longest-running studies of (butterfly) insect populations by continuing data collection at five sites in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California. Encompassing more than 150 species of butterflies, this NSF funded LTREB project will explore habitat use by both butterflies and caterpillars to better understand climate impacts on insect populations. Of particular interest is the role of extreme droughts, which are affecting the western United States with increasing frequency. Results from the project will inform our understanding of ongoing insect and pollinator declines.

Specific Responsibilities: We are looking for a PhD student interested in collaborating on the project. Specifically, the PhD student will use computational methods, including hierarchical Bayesian models and neural networks, to make predictions about future butterfly population demographics while accounting for uncertainty in future climate and possible effects of adaptive evolutionary change. The student will be tasked with maintaining a website making forecasts available to the public. Additional components of the PhD student’s dissertation will be tailored to the student’s interests and background. Possible projects could make connections to Gompert’s funded work on contemporary evolution and fluctuating selection in Lycaeides butterflies, but this is not required. The student will have the opportunity to visit the field sites, but collecting the butterfly count data is not a key part of the student’s project.

The successful candidate should have previous training in ecology, evolutionary biology, population genetics, applied math and statistics, or computational biology. Some proficiency with programming (e.g., moderate comfort with R, C, java, perl, or python) is desirable. Experience working with climate models or ecological forecasting would be an asset, but is not essential. Students with or without a Master’s degree are encouraged to apply. We welcome and encourage enthusiastic and open-minded applicants from any nation, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or socioeconomic class. For more information about the Gompert lab, including a statement of mentoring philosophy and expectations, please visit the lab website at

USU is a public land-grant research university in Logan, Utah (USA). The Department of Biology and USU offer excellent opportunities for education, training, funding, and collaboration. Graduate students in the department have the option of pursuing a PhD in Biology or in the inter-departmental Ecology program. Located in the Rocky Mountains, the Logan area also offers exceptional opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Interested students should e-mail me ( with the following:

1. A cover letter describing the student’s background and training, goals and reasons for pursuing a PhD, and the specific reasons why this opportunity is of exceptional interest.
2. A CV, including contact information for three academic references.
3. A writing sample. This could be in the form of a published or draft manuscript, an undergraduate thesis, or some other substantial document that constitutes scientific writing.

New paper using genomic time-series data shows that gene flow maintains high genetic diversity despite small demic Ne in the Northern blue butterfly

Effective population size is a central parameter in population genetic models, which affects the efficacy of selection, rates of drift and diversity levels. When populations are subdivided into multiple demes connected by gene flow, evolution can depend on both the local (demic) and global (species) effective population size. In our new paper, now available from Molecular Ecology,we use population genomic data from multiple populations and generations to show that Northern blue butterfly (Lycaeides idas) populations experience sufficient gene flow to maintain high diversity levels (consistent with their global effective population size), but still experience high rates of evolution by drift (consistent with their local effective population sizes). Thus, we demonstrate that genome-wide change and the maintenance of diversity are driven largely by different processes, drift versus gene flow, and reflect dramatically different effective population sizes. As we discuss in this paper, these findings add further complexity to arguments about the use of genetic diversity metrics in conservation biology and might shed light on longstanding questions concerning the determinants of diversity levels in nature (i.e., Lewontin’s paradox).

Lycaeides mating pair at Rendevous Peak in GTNP, photo by L. Lucas