The evolution and diversification of eyes in strombid gastropods

Queen conch (lobatus gigas) in sea

The foot (with a brown, sickle-shaped operculum), eyestalks and snout of Lobatus gigas exposed through the shell's aperture. CC BY 2.0 Daniel Neal

The PhD project will investigate the evolution of eyes among Strombidae.

The studentship is part of the Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership, funded by NERC and starts September 2018.

Apply for this course

Read the eligibility criteria and application guidance below, then send your application to

Application deadline: 7 January 2018

Research focus

This PhD will combine molecular and morphological datasets, methods in comparative phylogenetics and behavioural studies to explore how and why the beautiful and complex eyes of the Strombidae have evolved.

The three main aims of this project are:

  • to discover the phylogenetic history of the family Strombidae and the evolution of their eyes.
  • to determine the underlying molecular basis of vision in Strombidae eyes.
  • to explore visual adaptations in Strombidae eyes.

Supervision and training

The student will also be part of active research groups at the University of Bristol (Dr Nick Roberts - ecology of vision and neuroethology) and Cambridge University (Dr Liz Harper - palaeontology and shell microstructure), and will receive training in multiple disciplines.

The student will also collaborate with colleagues at the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle in Paris, the Smithsonian Institution, and the University of South Carolina. If additional funding can be obtained, the project will include a fieldtrip to the tropics.


Our first aim is to discover the phylogenetic history of the family Strombidae and the evolution of their eyes. We will build a phylogenetic framework using molecular markers and fossil calibrations to map the development of eye type, identifying when complex camera eyes evolved.

Furthermore, distinct traits such as eye colour will be used for phylogenetic character mapping, allowing us to investigate specific transition points. This part of the project will predominantly focus on obtaining molecular (eg Sanger sequencing and mitogenomics) and morphological datasets (eg histology and micro-computed tomography to create 3D models).

We also aim to determine the underlying molecular basis of vision in Strombidae eyes. The student will use transcriptomics to identify genes associated with vision for key taxa. This will provide us with an exciting new understanding of how these animals see their world, and in particular how they see some of their unique colouration.

Finally, we intend to explore visual adaptations in Strombidae eyes. Based on the morphological data of the eyes, behavioural experiments will determine visual abilities such as visual acuity and contrast thresholds. We will also investigate if, like other molluscs, these animals are able to see the polarization of light.


Strombidae is a family of marine snails with many colourful, bizarre and beautiful shell morphologies. The family can be recognized by its 'strombid notch' - a fluting of the shell that allows the second of its two long eyestalks to peer out of the shell.

These snails are largely found in shallow waters, often in association with sea grass. While once thought to be carnivores, strombids are now known to be herbivores or detritivores. It is therefore surprising that, unlike most gastropods, strombids are thought to have excellent vision.


Studentships are open to UK and other EU students. Other nationalities (eg EEA countries) may be eligible - students should enquire with the project's respective postgraduate administration to see if they qualify for home fee rates. Up to nine studentships are available to EU students who do not ordinarily reside in the UK. Please note that this may be subject to change pending post-EU referendum discussions. All applicants need to comply with the registered university's English-language requirements.

Applicants should have obtained or be about to obtain a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have a master's degree. Applicants with a minimum Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply.

How to apply

Applications for the PhD are processed through the Natural History Museum.

To apply please send the following documents to the Postgraduate Office at

  • Curriculum vitae.
  • Covering letter outlining your interest in the PhD position, relevant skills training, experience and qualifications for the research, and a statement of how this PhD project fits your career development plans.
  • Two academic referees.

The deadline for applications is 7 January 2018.

Any questions?

If you have any questions about the project please contact

Main supervisor: Dr Suzanne Williams


Savazzi E (1991) Constructional morphology of strombid gastropods. Lethaia 24: 311-331.

Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership

Joint PhD training partnerships between the Natural History Museum and the Great Western Four, Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter universities.

Funded by 

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