[MARMAM] PhD studentship opportunity: pinniped behaviour

TWISS S.D. s.d.twiss at durham.ac.uk
Mon Jan 7 10:34:21 PST 2013

Dear All,

below are details of a competitive PhD studentship opportunity for research on grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) behaviour.

Project title: Personality and plasticity: individual variation in coping with natural and anthropogenic stress.

Supervisors: Dr. Sean Twiss (Durham University), Dr. Patrick Pomeroy (SMRU, University of St. Andrews).

Project outline: Consistent individual differences (CIDs) in behaviour, indicative of personalities, have been shown in taxa ranging from Cnidaria to Mammalia (1). Although, CIDs constrain individuals’ behavioural plasticity, they do not preclude it, and individuals often vary in the degree of behavioural plasticity they show (2). This is a key characteristic of the proactive–reactive personality axis, where proactive individuals form routines readily and express little behavioural flexibility compared to reactive individuals, in which behaviour patterns are more flexible, making them more responsive to environmental stimuli (2). However, few studies have integrated examination of individual behavioural consistency (a key element of personality) and plasticity, particularly in the wild (3-5), although the two are inextricably linked. Furthermore, individual variation in behavioural plasticity is likely related to rates of habituation or sensitisation to stimuli. Given that reactive individuals are those that express behavioural flexibility(1), one might expect reactive individuals to habituate more rapidly and the few studies that examine both personality and habituation suggest that proactive individuals take longer to habituate to repeated stimuli(6). Links between personality, plasticity and habituation are important to establish, as they constitute the framework in which individuals cope with disturbances and changes to their environment. Our studies of wild female grey seals have revealed a continuum of behavioural types from proactives, who maintain similar maternal behaviour patterns irrespective of levels of local disturbance, to reactive females, who alter behaviour in response to disturbances(7). This studentship will build on these studies of personality in grey seals by determining whether reactive individuals are able to habituate more rapidly, and consequently exhibit reduced behavioural and physiological indicators of stress(4). The study will examine these interactions in natural contexts, where disturbance is due to conspecifics, and in contexts where individuals are exposed to anthropogenic disturbance. Field based observations and experiments will be used to establish behavioural types and patterns of habituation of individually identified grey seals at UK breeding colonies differing in the level and nature of disturbance. The study will test whether the pro-reactive axis correlates with patterns of habituation. In addition, behavioural and physiological proxies of metabolic rates and stress will be examined in relation to; (a) the nature of disturbances and (b) behavioural type, in particular, individual differences in rates of habituation.

References:1. Dall SRX et al. 2004.. Ecol. Lett. 7:734–739. 2. Koolhaas JM et al. 2010.. Front. Neuroen. 31:307–321. 3. Dingemanse NJ et al. 2010. TREE 25:81–89. 4. Coppens CM et al. 2010.. Phil. Trans. R.Soc. B 365:4021-4028. 5. Betini GS, Norris DR. 2012. Anim Behav 83:137-143. 6. Carere C et al. 2004. Anim. Behav. 70:795–805. 7. Twiss SD et al. 2012. PLoS ONE (16 Nov). 8. Kentaro QS 2009 . PLoS ONE 4(4):e5379. 9. Halsey LG et al. 2011.. PLoS ONE 6(8): e22311.

Potential candidates must fulfil the University’s requirements regarding English language ability 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 (iii) ecological modelling approaches. Candidates should also hold a UK driving licence (or equivalent).

For additional application requirements information see:


NOTE: This project is in competition with others for funding through the Durham Doctoral Scholarship scheme. Success will depend on the quality of applications received, relative to those for competing projects.

Informal enquiries about the scientific aspects of the project should be made to Dr Sean Twiss (s.d.twiss at durham.ac.uk<mailto:s.d.twiss at durham.ac.uk>).

Formal application procedure: If you wish to proceed with a formal application for the potential PhD project on grey seals you should complete the online application procedure. This is necessary to be considered as a candidate in the competition for the funding option for this studentship (Durham Doctoral Scholarship - http://www.dur.ac.uk/science.faculty/postgraduatefunding/#faculty), though please be aware that competition will be extremely intense.

Eligibility: Applicants must be applying to start a full-time PhD in the Faculty in October 2013. 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.

Application process: Applicants must complete the University's postgraduate online application form and state, in response to the question how they plan to fund their studies, that they wish to considered for a Durham Doctoral Studentship.
You can apply via the University’s online application process.
(Much of the information required in the form is the same as that you have provided in your CV and letter – so a simple copy and paste will suffice for most of it). Ensure that you include my name as supervisor and the project title on the application.
Please ensure that you provide:

·         CV

·         Two references

·         Copies of academic certificates and/or transcripts

·         The completed application form

·         Evidence of English language ability, e.g. IELTS or TOEFL transcripts

·         A description of the proposed research project prepared by the candidate (no more than one side of A4) – this can be based on the information provided in the advert.

NOTE that this project is in competition with others for Durham Doctoral Scholarship funding. Success will depend on the quality of the applicant, relative to those for competing projects. In coming to decisions on awards the panel will consider the following as positive features of an application:

                Excellent academic track record

                Holding of a Masters-level degree

                Excellent references

                A high quality research project proposal especially if prepared by the candidate


                Excellent English language ability

For further information on the application procedure please contact the postgraduate secretary:

                Ashley Graven,

                Postgraduate Admissions

                School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences

                Science Laboratories

                South Road

                Durham University

                DH1 3LE

                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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