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CEEHRC / Postdoctoral Fellow – Epigenetic Changes as a Mechanism for Mammalian Population Cycles /

Dr. Rudy Boonstra at the University of Toronto is seeking a highly talented, engaged, enthusiastic postdoctoral fellow to investigate epigenetic (methylation) changes in snowshoe hares from two population cycles.

No mammalian population increases without limit. One of the fundamental questions in population ecology is: what are the factors that regulate and limit animal populations? Population cycles in small mammals (3-4 year cycles in voles and lemmings) and snowshoe hares (9-11 year cycles) occur throughout the northern hemisphere and have been studied for over 100 years. They have given us deep insight into the roles of food limitation, predation, stress, social processes, disease, and physical factors as causal mechanisms for these population cycles and for understanding population regulation processes generally. These findings may apply not just to these species, but to other vertebrates as well. In these cyclic species there is an enigma in their demography – the low phase – which can last 1 year in small mammals and 2-4 years in hares. For both, there is no obvious cause (food is abundant, predators are at low numbers, and other detrimental physical factors are absent). There is something intrinsically different about animals present at that time, even when these animals are taken to the lab. The hypothesis is that the environmental experience of the mothers during the peak and decline phases of the cycle programs their offspring through maternal effects. This signature causes these offspring to survive and reproduce poorly during the low phase. It takes one or more generations for this signature to disappear before high functioning animals again are present in the population, producing the increase phase. We hypothesize that this change is an epigenetic modification of key regulatory genes. Though extensive epigenetic work has been done on laboratory species and on humans, no such study has been done in nature on wild species that show these large scale, demographic effects.

We have collected brain tissue samples from snowshoe hares throughout the phases of the cycle and now seek a postdoctoral fellow to analyze these samples using Reduced Representation Bisulfite Sequencing (RRBS).

The postdoctoral fellow must have the following background and expertise:

  • PhD focusing on epigenetics, or previous postdoctoral research on epigenetics, particularly in the brain.
  • Experience with brain sectioning, extraction of critical samples from the hippocampus, hypothalamus, and amygdala, and DNA extraction from tissues.
  • Experience with library preparation, ideally RRBS.
  • Expertise with bioinformatics and analysis of sequencing data to determine the biological significance of the methylated regions. Note that the reference genome for snowshoe hares has been carried out by The Centre for Applied Genomics has not been published yet, but we have access to it.
  • Evidence of synthesizing epigenetic patterns found to their biological causes and implications.

Position Details

This postdoctoral fellow is expected to publish manuscripts in high-quality peer-reviewed journals and present their findings at national and international scientific conferences. The position will be supervised primarily by Prof. Rudy Boonstra (Centre for Environmental Epigenetics and Development [CEED] and Centre for the Neurobiology of Stress [CNS]).

This position is a 2-year appointment with a competitive salary of $52,000 CAN/year and a full benefits package. Please contact Prof. Rudy Boonstra ( with questions.

To Apply

Interested applicant should submit (1) a cover letter, (2) an up-to-date CV, (3) two recent publications demonstrating the required background and expertise and (4) contact information for three references. Please send this material to by 15 March 2022 for full consideration.

Proposed Start Date: 1 May 2022 (latest 1 July 2022).

University of Toronto
Date posted: