** NEW PhD **


APPLy now - deadline Jan 7th 2018

Workers and Shirkers: Alternative Life-history Trajectories

in a CooperativeLY BREEDING Kalahari Bird


Lead Supervisor: Andrew Young (Animal Societies Group; University of Exeter Cornwall campus)
Co-supervisors: Alastair Wilson & Xavier Harrison (both Exeter) and Duncan Baird (Cardiff)


This project will combine fieldwork on the white-browed sparrow weaver project in the Kalahari desert with existing large long-term life-history, behavioural and genetic data sets from this model system, to test a novel hypothesis for the evolutionary and developmental origins of individual variation in cooperative behaviour. The project would therefore be ideally suited to a candidate keen to ask cutting edge integrative questions about the evolution and development of social behaviour in wild vertebrates.

In many cooperative societies offspring initially delay dispersal from their natal group, and forego reproduction while helping to rear future generations of their parents’ young. While it is often assumed that individuals simply help (principally to accrue indirect fitness) while waiting to seize a breeding position of their own (to accrue direct fitness), strong trade-offs may exist between the two, leading to the evolution of alternative life-history trajectories. For example, poor quality individuals may have little chance of seizing hotly contested breeding vacancies, and so may invest heavily in helping as their primary route to fitness. Similarly, high quality individuals may help little, given the potential for investments in helping to trade-off against their successful seizure of a breeding vacancy. Despite considerable interest in the causes of individual variation in helper contributions, few studies of vertebrate societies have considered the possibility of such alternative life-history trajectories, in which individuals are arrayed along a social continuum from generous helpers with poor prospects to would-be breeders who contribute little. This project will test the alternative life-history trajectories hypothesis using long-term life-history, behavioural and genetic data from our field study of cooperatively breeding white-browed sparrow weaver societies.

The successful candidate will be based in Dr Andrew Young’s ‘Animal Societies’ research group at the University of Exeter’s world-renowned Centre for Ecology and Conservation in Penryn, Cornwall. The supervisory team also includes the relevant expertise of Alastair Wilson (quantitative genetics), Duncan Baird (telomere biology) and Xavier Harrison (pedigree building). The PhD will involve training in the diverse skills necessary for the success of the project, including field skills (e.g. longitudinal life-history monitoring, automated behavioural monitoring and molecular sampling), molecular genetic skills (e.g. parentage assignment and telomere biology) and advanced statistical skills (e.g. multi-variate mixed modelling & quantitative genetic methods). The project would therefore suit a candidate seeking an ambitious project combining field & lab approaches to address a novel evolutionary question in the wild.



… and check out this other PhD currently advertised by Al Wilson, on which we will collaborate…

The Genetics of Adaptive Divergence in Guppies with Alastair Wilson, Exeter