Two potential PhD Studentship Opportunities: (1) Grey seal behaviour, (2) Application of biotelemetry to quantify behaviour.
Below are details of two potential PhD opportunities being advertised at Durham University (UK). Both are competitive studentships, and all initial enquiries should be made to Dr Sean Twiss (email@example.com)
PROJECT 1: Behavioural and physiological responses to changing environments in wild grey seals (Halichoerus grypus)
Dr. Sean Twiss (Durham Univ.): firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Patrick Pomeroy (SMRU, University of St. Andrews)
Dr Amanda Bishop (Alaska SeaLife Center)
Background: Organisms have evolved mechanisms to cope with natural stressors, but rapid environmental change is subjecting species to new threats or more unpredictable and extreme natural stressors. 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. Within populations, 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. 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.
This project aims to investigate variation in behavioural and physiological stress reactivity within and between individuals, and across populations, using extensive archived data on known individual adult female grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) during the breeding season, a time of intense energetic demands and limitations. Our previous studies have highlighted the considerable additional stress placed on breeding grey seals by extreme weather patterns, and this study will examine changing behavioural patterns in concert with indicators of physiological changes in breeding and non-breeding wild grey seals. The study will assess whether behavioural indicators of environmental stress map onto physiological indicators, and establish levels of inter-individual variation, and within individual consistency in such responses.
Methods: The study will utilise an extensive existing catalogue of data on known individual breeding grey seals from a range of contrasting breeding colonies. The successful candidate will extract new data from archived video footage of these same seals to provide key behavioural and physiological metrics. These metrics will be analysed with respect to prevailing environmental factors, including social context (e.g. conspecific density) and weather conditions. Data analysis will involve mixed effects modelling procedures using ‘R’. There may also be scope for some additional field-based data collection, but this will depend upon opportunity.
Candidate requirements: Potential candidates should be able to demonstrate the ability to conduct prolonged periods of behavioural observations, while remaining focused, 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 and analysis of behavioural data is advantageous, but not essential. There is the possibility of additional data collection through field campaign(s), but candidates will need to show a willingness and ability to travel and conduct prolong field observations alone. A UK driving licence (or equivalent) would be essential for field campaigns.
Training: The student will gain extensive inter-disciplinary training in behavioural observation, video analysis, and data analysis in R employing mixed-effects models. The student will also develop critical thinking, writing, presentational and teamwork skills as part of dynamic, interdisciplinary, and supportive research groups.
Applications for this project are welcome from suitably qualified candidates worldwide. Applicants must be applying to start a full-time PhD in the Faculty in October 2020. They must have fulfilled the University’s requirements regarding English language ability and must not require a presessional course as a condition of their place.
Funding and how to apply
This project is in competition with others for funding (via the Durham Doctoral Studentship scheme). Success will therefore depend on the quality of applications received, relative to those for competing projects. If you are interested in applying, in the first instance contact Dr Sean Twiss, (email@example.com) with a CV and covering letter, detailing your reasons for applying for the project. Only the best applicants will be asked to submit a full application. UK and Non-UK students areadvised that to be considered for the Durham Doctoral Fellowship, the minimum requirements include an excellent undergraduate degree with either postgraduate or work experience in a relevant discipline and scientific publication(s) in peer reviewed journals.
Application deadline: Friday 10th Jan. 2020 at 5 pm (GMT)
PROJECT 2: Quantifying the relative importance of extrinsic and intrinsic drivers of individual behaviour and habitat use of hefted sheep on a biodiverse but fragile upland ecosystem.
Although this project does not involve seals, it does require a range of research skills that marine mammalogists often possess; experience of the deployment of biotelemetry devices and analysis of biotelemetry data to examine behaviour patterns in free ranging mammals.
Dr. Sean D. Twiss (firstname.lastname@example.org), Department of Biosciences, Durham University
Dr. Robert Baxter, Department of Biosciences, Durham University
Martin Furness, Senior Reserve Manager, Natural England
Dr Mike Morecroft, Natural England and University of Oxford
Dr Gavin Stewart, Newcastle University
Dr Fiona Lovatt, School of Veterinary Science, University of Nottingham.
Background: The unenclosed upland areas of the UK are internationally important for wildlife and of high nature conservation value. However, these fragile habitats are subject to various threats including the impacts of climate change, atmospheric pollution deposition, acid rain and grazing pressures. A primary tool for sustainable management of these landscapes is implementing grazing regimes that allow maintenance or recovery of habitats and which support ecosystem services. However, remarkably little is known about the behaviour of the major grazer of UK uplands, domestic hill sheep, and their impact on vegetation mosaics. This project aims to investigate the determinants of group and individual level foraging choices within upland vegetation mosaics and how these vary in relation to sheep age, size, experience (hefting) and extrinsic factors including the spatial distribution of vegetation types, weather and micro-topography. This study will provide valuable information on how these different factors interact and allow a consideration of practical management techniques that can be used to influence the spatial distribution and feeding choices of sheep.
Upper Teesdale National Nature Reserve hosts unique Arctic-Alpine plant assemblages with many species existing in climatically marginal locations. This project will involve extensive fieldwork at Widdybank Fell, part of the NNR that contains some of the most biodiverse habitat, and for which pre-existing fine-scale habitat maps exist. Sheep behaviour will be monitored at the level of the individual using a combination of in situ visual observation, supplemented by video recordings, and by using animal borne telemetry; GPS data-loggers will be deployed to provide fine scale movement and location data, with accelerometers to allow for automatic classification of behaviours with respect to time and location. The research will require the development of analytical protocols to classify raw accelerometry data into behavioural categories, including foraging. Behavioural data will be used within a GIS to examine intrinsic and extrinsic drivers of individual sheep behaviour and habitat use. Widdybank Fell is a long established research site and benefits from detailed existing data and ongoing studies on micrometeorology, microtopography and microhabitat. The current study will have the potential to integrate behavioural data with these environmental data within a GIS.
The research will involve extensive field based behavioural observations of individually identified sheep. Potential candidates should be able to demonstrate the ability to conduct prolonged fieldwork in potentially 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 and analysis of telemetry data is advantageous, but not essential. A UK driving licence (or equivalent) is essential. Further details of the project and candidate requirements can be obtained from Dr. Twiss.
The student will gain extensive interdisciplinary training in fieldwork logistics, behavioural observation, deployment of telemetry devices, and develop analytical skills for both behavioural and telemetry data. The student will also develop critical thinking, communication, and teamwork skills as part of dynamic and interdisciplinary research groups.
This project is in competition with others for funding, and success will depend on the quality and suitability of applicants, relative to those for competing projects. For further information, or to apply, contact Dr. Sean Twiss at email@example.com. In your email include: 1) two-page covering letter explaining your reasons for applying and why you selected this project, 2) CV with contact information for two references, 3) Full transcripts of previous qualifications. Only the best applicants will be asked to submit an application to the University. The application deadline is 10th January 2020, therefore students should contact Dr. Twiss well in advance for initial consideration. For eligibility requirements, see http://www.iapetus.ac.uk/aboutstudentships/