Up to 3 PhD positions in Animal Evolutionary Ecology:

“The evolutionary ecology of cognition across a heterogeneous landscape”

Why do individuals vary in their cognitive abilities? EVOECOCOG, an ERC funded project, takes the disciplines of cognition and evolutionary biology into a natural setting to answer this question. It aims to do this by investigating a variety of proximate causes and population-level consequences of individual cognitive variation using a great tit Parus major population.

Three objectives capture the project’s broad scope:

  1. To characterise proximate causes of variation in cognitive and other associated traits
  2. To examine links between these traits, key functional behaviours and trade-offs
  3. To examine the consequences of this variation for life histories, fitness, natural and sexual selection.

State of the art observational (radio tracking and automated self-administration trials of learning in the wild), chemical (stable isotope analysis of diet), physiological (stress, energetics, immunocompetence), molecular (DNA fingerprinting and metabarcoding) and analytical (reaction norm, quantitative genetic) techniques will be used. The chosen study system, the great tit Parus major, is one of the most widely used in Europe, and will consist of 12 subpopulations across deciduous and conifer woodland fragments in Co. Cork, Ireland, and a recently established larger population in Killarney National Park, World Heritage Site. An existing aviary at the School of BEES will be replaced by a new aviary on the same site, funded with a Science Foundation Ireland ERC support grant.

This advert is for up to three 4-year PhD studentships. The successful students will be based in the UCC Ornithology lab at the School of BEES http://ornithology.ucc.ie. They will join a research team led by Prof. John L. Quinn, consisting of five early career biologists working on this project (see http://ornithology.ucc.ie/current-projects/evolutionary-ecology-of-cognition/), a Research Support Officer, and a range of other students and postdocs working on a variety of different projects in behavioural and applied ecology.

PhD 1: “Cognitive plasticity: social, environmental and microbial causes of individual variation”. The aim of this studentship will be to characterise proximate causes of variation in cognitive and other associated traits (e.g. personality), among wild birds, all of which can influence ecologically important behaviour. Quantitative genetic, social, parasite-mediated, microbial, and a range of physiological causes are among the factors that may be explored.

PhD 2: “The functional significance of cognitive variation for individuals in the wild”. The aim here will be to assay cognitive abilities (e.g. spatial and temporal memory) to understand how individual differences in cognition and other closely related traits (e.g. innovativeness/personality) might influence functional behaviour, including foraging routines, anti-predation behaviour, and energetic trade-offs during reproduction.

PhD 3: “Sexually and naturally selected cognitive traits”. This PhD studentship position will focus on the interplay between cognition, sexual selection and natural selection. The student will investigate links between cognitive traits measured in the wild, physiological traits, and mate attractiveness, including sexually selected signal variation, reproductive success and extra-pair paternity.

The studentships will be cosupervised by Prof. J. Quinn, Dr Michael Reichert, Dr Gabrielle Davidson, and Dr Ipek Kulahci.

Candidates should possess a 2.1 BSc (Hons) degree or higher in a relevant discipline (e.g. Ecology, Zoology, Evolution, Physiology, Psychology). Applicants must be self-motivated with good numerical, communication, organisational, experimental design, and writing skills. Students with an MSc and direct experience working in relevant research areas are likely to have a strong advantage. A full, clean driving license will be essential early in the PhD (own car advantageous), and experience working with birds in captivity or in the wild would also be advantageous. A willingness to spend long periods of time in the field, and to travel and work across different research sites is important. This position covers EU fee rates (€5,750 p.a.; non-EU members may apply but would need to cover extra international rate fees themselves), plus a tax-free stipend of €16,000 p.a.

Please direct informal inquiries to Prof. John L. Quinn at j.quinn@ucc.ie

Application: To apply please send by email to Prof. John Quinn, j.quinn@ucc.ie a CV, details of 2 referees, and an accompanying 1 page letter. The letter should state which specific PhD(s) you are applying for, and an outline of your relevant experience, explaining why you want the studentship.

Dates: Application deadline is 31 May 2016. Interviews will be held in person or by Skype within 2 weeks. Start dates are 1 September 2016 or 1 January 2017.

University College Cork is one of Ireland’s largest and most successful universities and the studentships will be based at the School of BEES. Currently there are 28 faculty, ca. 20 postdocs and 35 PhD students across Zoology, Ecology, Plant Sciences and Geology. Cork is situated on the south coast of Ireland, 2.5 hours from Dublin, is served by an international airport, has a population of about 200,000, and is on the doorstep of some of the most beautiful coastline in Europe.