May 20, 2022

Jeronimo Cid

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PhD: Drought vulnerability of the date palm and its wild relatives

Location: 3rd Floor, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology/Environment Centre Wales, Bangor University, Bangor and Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, London

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I completed my Undergraduate degree in Forestry Engineering at the Polytechnic University of Madrid. My dissertation aimed to improve the phylogeny of the pine genus (Pinus) through chloroplast genetic marker evaluation. I then undertook a six month stay at The Polytechnic School of Lausanne (EPFL) where I came into contact with the philosophy of classification. Afterwards my career steered towards science while remaining focused on plants through an MSc in Ecology, Evolution and Conservation at Imperial College London, which I completed with Distinction. My thesis focused on applying genetic evolutionary models to the ecological dynamics of tropical forests. These projects allowed me to address evolutionary questions through multiple angles, and sparked my interest in a PhD.

My original engineering background has maintained my focus on quantitative techniques, while my jobs and volunteering in industry and NGO’s have widened my skills and experience beyond academia. I would describe myself as a multidisciplinary evolutionist, since I am interested in understanding the history of life through a comprehensive spatio-temporal framework, with methods ranging from population genetics to spatial modelling. The rich conceptual foundation of evolutionary biology together with the diversity of methodological approaches to its study makes it a fascinating as well as challenging topic to pursue my PhD on.

My project will use genomics, evolutionary modelling and greenhouse experiments to reconstruct the evolutionary history of the date palm and its wild relatives (Phoenix sp.), and to generate knowledge on how they cope with water stress.

The date palm is a crop of high economic and cultural importance, but it is highly water-demanding, threatening the sustainability of this crop under future, drier, climates. More generally, the vulnerability to drought of most Phoenix species is unknown, questioning how they might adapt to climate change. In addition, the recent discovery of gene flow between the date palm and its wild relatives raises interesting evolutionary questions but challenges our ability to resolve their relationships.

The aim of my research is to produce new insights and genomic resources to fill the knowledge gaps in the evolutionary history of Phoenix species and to unlock the drought adaptation potential of these economically and evolutionarily important plants.

To this end the phylogeny of the genus will be improved and the variation among species in traits known to be involved in drought tolerance will be assessed through an array of techniques ranging from DNA sequencing and bioinformatics to fieldwork and lab experiments. We will specifically target genetic and morphological traits associated with drought tolerance in other palms to understand how Phoenix species have adapted to water stress, and therefore predict how they might adapt to climate change.  I will work both at Bangor University and Kew Gardens.