Project code



School of Biological Sciences

Start dates

February and October

Application deadline

Applications accepted all year round

Applications are invited for a self-funded, 3 year full-time or 6 year part-time PhD studentship, to commence in February or October.

This practice-based PhD involves an investigation into the role of specialized flowers and pollinators in diversification, and the specific ecological and evolutionary processes involved. This project is supervised by Professor Scott Armbruster (

Understanding how biological diversity is generated and maintained by natural processes is a major research priority in evolutionary biology, because of its fundamental importance in explaining the history of life and its relevance to mitigating ongoing loss of biodiversity.

However, we still lack a basic understanding of the roles of various possible processes that link evolutionary success (species persistence and diversity) with specific traits or trait combinations. A central question in plant-diversity research concerns the role of specialised flowers and pollinators in diversification.

As such, there remains considerable uncertainty about the ecological and evolutionary processes involved. 

The work will include:

  • Performing flower-colour analyses, using reflectance spectrometry, and functional analyses of flower morphology, movement, and pollination
  • Making further contributions to the expansion of the phylogenetic data currently available for the group, most likely using a high-throughput sequencing approach (e.g. Hyb-Seq, which combines genome skimming and targeted enrichment)
  • Using phylogenetic tree reconstruction techniques and comparative analysis tools to examine the evolution of a various morphological and ecological features in the triggerplant genus (Stylidium containing some 300+ species) and their links to shifts in diversification rates and biogeographical patterns
  • Should additional funding become available, there's also the possibility of investigating the development of different floral morphologies present in this group, in particular the different trigger mechanisms involved in pollination, using a developmental transcriptomics approach

A number of relationships between floral specialisation and evolutionary trends have been identified in earlier studies, such as the broadly recognised association between specialisation and species diversity.

Indeed, the generally accepted Grant-Stebbins model of plant diversification proposes that specialised pollination increases plant diversity by increasing speciation rates.

However, support for this mechanism is limited, and other mechanisms creating the association exist, including specialisation reducing extinction rates and specialisation being a result of selection generated by competition with related plant species in the local environment.

The goal of the research described here is to use members of the large triggerplant genus (Stylidium, containing some 300+ species) in the SW Australian biodiversity hotspot to assess possible mechanisms involved in creating the well documented correlation between species diversity and specialised systems of pollination.

Triggerplants are an iconic group of plants both because of their high local and regional diversity and because of their phenotypically specialised, fast-moving flowers. Nearly half the genus has been sequenced at informative loci, and preliminary fieldwork and analyses have been conducted. This particular avenue of study is therefore the ideal jumping off point for a PhD Project.

Fees and funding

Funding availability: Self-funded PhD students only. 

PhD full-time and part-time courses are eligible for the UK Government Doctoral Loan (UK and EU students only).

Entry requirements

  • A minimum of a second-class honours degree or equivalent in a relevant subject or a master’s degree in an appropriate subject.
  • Exceptionally, equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications will be considered. An online portfolio submission may be required as part of the selection process. All applicants are subject to interview.
  • English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0. 

Make an enquiry

For administrative and admissions enquiries please contact

How to apply

To start your application, or enquire further about the process involved, please contact Professor Scott Armbruster (, quoting both the project code BIOL3170217 and title.

You can also visit our 'How to Apply' pages to get a better understanding of how the PhD application process works.

October start

Apply now

February start

Apply now