[MARMAM] PhD opportunity: grey seal behaviour

TWISS S.D. s.d.twiss at durham.ac.uk
Mon Dec 9 07:01:36 PST 2013

Dear Marmamers,

We wish to announce the following PhD studentship opportunity:

PhD Opportunity:

Project title: Coping styles: understanding individual differences in stress reactivity in a wild population of grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) and their fitness consequences

Project supervisors:

            Dr. Sean Twiss (Durham University): s.d.twiss at durham.ac.uk<mailto:s.d.twiss at durham.ac.uk>,

Dr. Patrick Pomeroy (SMRU, Scottish Oceans Institute, University of St. Andrews)

Application deadline: 31st January 2014

Project description: Within animal populations individuals differ in their ability to cope with stress. Most wild animal populations are subject to increasing anthropogenic stressors. Even non-consumptive activities, such as the rapidly expanding ecotourism industry, can add stressors to animals. Quantitatively assessing how individual animals react to, and cope with, anthropogenic stress is critical in determining ‘acceptable’ levels of disturbance in situations where human-wildlife interactions are inevitable. However, behavioural measures can be misleading or difficult to interpret in terms of how stressed and individual actually is, and should be supported by physiological evidence of when stress becomes distress. This project will investigate the physiological underpinnings of behavioural types in wild pinnipeds.  Individual grey seals are known to differ in behavioural type, along a proactive-reactive axis. Proactive and reactive behavioural types are regarded as differing coping styles, with differing behavioural and physiological responses in the face of stressors, both natural and/or anthropogenic. Laboratory studies suggest that individual differences in stress reactivity may be controlled by differences in the autonomic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, and are associated with differences in heart rate (HR) parameters. HR reflects the autonomic balance between the slowing effects of parasympathetic nerves and the accelerating effects of sympathetic nerves, a balance that is suggested to differ between pro- and reactive individuals.

            This project aims to investigate the physiological underpinnings of behavioural types, in wild, free-ranging grey seals, by the application of heart rate data-loggers to individually identified seals during the breeding season. The project will (i) use established observational and experimental approaches to classify individual female grey seal behavioural types, (ii) examine whether physiological indicators (heart rate and breathing rate) relate to behavioural type, and (iii) whether individual variation in physiological measures contribute to variation in maternal investment strategies. Over 3 consecutive breeding seasons, field data collection will involve: (1) identifying individual breeding females using established photo-ID protocols, (2) observations to provide metrics describing behavioural type, (3) application of heart rate monitors allied to detailed observations from video footage to record physiological proxies. Behavioural and physiological data will be analysed with respect to natural and anthropogenic stressors experienced by the focal seals. Direct measures of maternal expenditure will be gained from the identified females, allowing examination of how differences in coping style influence patterns of maternal reproductive investment.
Potential candidates must fulfil the University’s requirements regarding English language ability (see below) and will require (i) a clear understanding of behavioural ecology theory and practice and (ii) the ability to conduct prolonged and isolated fieldwork in harsh conditions, and would ideally have experience of; (i) behavioural observation of wild pinnipeds, and (ii) ecological modelling approaches. Candidates should also hold a UK driving licence (or equivalent). The student will gain extensive training in behavioural observation, application of biotelemetry devices, compilation and maintenance of photo-ID database, spatial data manipulation and analyses within a GIS, statistical analyses (including quantifying ‘personality’ and analysis of HR data), organisation of fieldwork logistics and safety in remote, isolated locations.

Reference: Twiss SD, Cairns C, Culloch RM, Richards SA & Pomeroy PP (2012). Behavioural Variation in Female Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus) Reproductive Performance Correlates to Proactive-Reactive Behavioural Types. PLoS ONE 7(11): e49598. Doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049598

Notes on funding: This project is in competition with others for funding. The potential funding comes from the Durham Doctoral Studentship programme (DDS), which funds both tuition fees and living costs. Success will depend on the quality of applications received, relative to those for competing projects. Details of the Durham Doctoral Studentships can be found at:

Notes on eligibility: Applicants must be applying to start a full-time PhD in the Faculty in October 2014. They must have fulfilled the University's requirements regarding English language ability and must not require a pre-sessional course as a condition of their place. See:

Notes on application procedure: If you are interested in applying and/or require further details, in the first instance contact the supervisor (Dr Twiss: s.d.twiss at durham.ac.uk<mailto:s.d.twiss at durham.ac.uk>.) with a CV and covering letter, detailing your reasons for applying for the project. Dr Twiss will then request the best applicants to submit a full application for DDS funding via the University’s online application process.

Candidates wishing to proceed with a full application must then complete the University's postgraduate online application form and state, in response to the question ‘how you plan to fund your studies’, that you wish to be considered for a Durham Doctoral Studentship.

The following documents should be submitted, by the deadline specified, using the University’s online application process:

•        The completed application form (including a description of the proposed research project prepared by the candidate (no more than one side of A4). This can be based on the above project description.
•         CV
•         Two references for the candidate
•         Copies of academic certificates and/or transcripts
•         Evidence of English language ability, e.g. IELTS or TOEFL transcripts.
For further details, see:

For further information on the application procedure, contact:
Postgraduate Admissions
School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Science Laboratories
South Road
Durham University

Telephone: +44 (0) 191 334 1200 / +44 (0) 191 334 9167
Fax: +44 (0) 191 334 1201
email: biosci.pgsecretary at durham.ac.uk<mailto:biosci.pgsecretary at durham.ac.uk>


Dr. Sean Twiss,
Lecturer in Behavioural Ecology,
School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences,
South Road,
Durham University,
Durham, DH1 3LE,

E-mail: s.d.twiss at durham.ac.uk
Web-site: https://www.dur.ac.uk/biosciences/about/schoolstaff/academicstaff/?id=1132
Blog: http://sealbehaviour.wordpress.com/

Tel: +44 (0)191 334 1350 (office)
Tel: +44 (0)191 334 1247 (lab)
Fax: +44 (0)191 334 1201
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