New opportunities to join the team!

We are very excited to announce that we are now taking applications for two competitively funded PhD projects here at Durham University. As you’ve heard in recent blog posts, our research blends traditional naturalist behavioural observations, physiological monitoring approaches, and new technology (accelerometers, heart-rate monitors, GIS, night-vision cameras, and the occasional remote-controlled car) in order to investigate how individual animals respond to their environment, and the fitness consequences of these strategies.

Typical grey seal breeding aggregation on the Isle of May

Typical grey seal breeding aggregation on the Isle of May

PATTERNS OF INDIVIDUAL VARIATION IN POST-WEANING BEHAVIOUR IN WILD GREY SEALS

For more information and instructions for applying: https://www.findaphd.com/search/ProjectDetails.aspx?PJID=78869&LID=431

This first opportunity is part of the NERC Doctoral Training Program funding scheme and is open to applicants from the UK and EU only. This study aims to provide insights into the basic patterns of on-colony behaviour, the ontogeny of behaviour in naïve juvenile grey seals, and the diversity of behavioural profiles and their adaptability to changing conditions.  Juvenile survival is a major driver of population dynamics in many mammals, including seals. While factors determining breeding site selection and use in adult pinnipeds are well-studied, neonate utilisation of these habitats is less well understood, despite the importance of understanding the ontogeny of early behaviour. There is ongoing debate and research into physiological mechanisms that may determine the post weaning fast (PWF) duration in grey seal (Halichoerus grypus). However, there remains a dearth of behavioural data on weaned pups; how they spend their time on their natal colony, how much they explore and move around the colony and variation in departure time (‘time to leave’ being a key parameter for grey seal population models). Recent studies show consistent individual differences (‘personalities’) in grey seal mothers, but it remains unknown whether these behavioural profiles are expressed in weaned pups. It is possible that different behavioural types may show different tendencies for post weaning behaviour and fast duration. Check out this recent publication from our team and collaborators investigating a related topic: the drivers of weaned pup aggression.

Grey seal pups remain on the colony for a prolonged post-weaning fast. They explore, or are forced to the periphery of the colony, either alone....

Grey seal pups remain on the colony for a prolonged post-weaning fast. They explore, or are forced to the periphery of the colony, either alone….

...or in groups

…or in groups.

A MULTI-LEVEL APPROACH TO QUANTIFYING INDIVIDUALITY IN STRESS COPING ABILITY OF WILD ANIMALS

For more information and instructions for applying: https://www.findaphd.com/search/ProjectDetails.aspx?PJID=78872&LID=431

This project is competitively funded through the Durham Doctoral Studentship and is open to all applicants: international, EU and UK. Understanding how individuals differ in their ability to cope with stressors, and the consequences if they fail to do so, is critical for quantifying species’ resilience to current and future threats of climate change and anthropogenic disturbance. Conventional studies focus on species or ecosystem level responses to change, such as range or phenological shifts, but these are products of variation in individual responses. Individuals can show differing coping-styles; proactive individuals express little flexibility and are less responsive to environmental stimuli, whereas reactive individuals are more flexible and responsive. Underpinning these behavioural characteristics are physiological differences associated with the autonomic nervous system. Understanding how individuals differ in their ability to cope with stressors, and the consequences if they fail to do so, is critical for quantifying species’ resilience to current and future threats of climate change and anthropogenic disturbance. Such understanding requires integrative studies that uncover links between molecular and physiological mechanisms of stress coping and the individual outcomes in terms of behaviour and fitness. Candidates will require strong technical and analytical skills, including experience of modern molecular genetic techniques and statistical modelling. You can read more about some of the preliminary work we’ve done on this topic here and here.

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Females deal with many natural stressors during the breeding season including other aggressive females! This project will seek to tease apart their behavioural and physiological responses (coping-styles) and determine what impact these strategies have on survival using molecular analysis.

MORE INFORMATION ABOUT APPLYING

For both projects, candidates should be able to demonstrate the ability to conduct prolonged and isolated fieldwork in harsh conditions, while remaining dedicated and enthusiastic. Ability to work independently and as part of a team is essential. In addition, candidates will require strong analytical skills, including experience of modern ecological and statistical modelling techniques. Experience with R , GIS, and analysis of telemetry data is advantageous, but not essential.

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Fieldwork takes focus, patience, hard work (hiking, carrying equipment over rugged terrain), and the ability to work in a team in some pretty harsh conditions. It is NOT everyone’s cup of tea.

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(Though there are moments like this that help make it worth all the struggle.)

If you have any questions about either position please feel free email: s.d.twiss@durham.ac.uk (since we just started fieldwork there might be a slight delay in response!).

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