[MARMAM] Potential PhD opportunity in seal ethology, Durham University, UK

TWISS, SEAN D. s.d.twiss at durham.ac.uk
Thu Nov 30 11:46:31 PST 2023

Potential PhD opportunity in seal ethology (competitive funding via the Durham Doctoral Studentship scheme)

Project title: Quantity or quality: understanding the significance of ‘resting’ in energy management strategies in lactating grey seals (Halichoerus grypus).

Application deadline*: Wednesday 31st January 2024 at 5 pm (GMT)

* see detailed notes below

Supervisory team:

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

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

Dr Courtney Shuert (Conservation Programs Manager, Assiniboine Park Conservancy, Winnipeg, MB,)

Dr Isabella Capellini (School of Biological Sciences, Queens University Belfast)

Project description

Lactation is an energetically demanding period for mammals, and iteroparous mothers must balance how they partition their energy resources between provisioning offspring while maintaining their own health and future capabilities. Among capital breeding phocids this balance is particularly acute, where mothers sustain themselves and their single pup exclusively on a finite energy reserve acquired prior to parturition. Therefore, judicious management of energy reserves is apparent in phocid mothers, most readily observed as the large proportion of time-activity budgets spent inactive (resting). Our recent research on grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) mothers has revealed individual differences in behaviour (Twiss et al.  2012, Shuert et al. 2020a), stress-coping styles (Twiss et al. 2020) and energy management patterns (Shuert et al. 2020b), suggesting that, despite the tight constraints imposed by the capital breeding life-history, there is still considerable inter-individual variation in the tactics adopted to manage energy budgets.

This study aims to investigate individual variation in the quantity and quality of resting during lactation in relation to individual personality, stress-coping style and reproductive energetics among female grey seals.  The aim will be to use pre-existing data to establish approaches for discerning differing qualities of rest (e.g. sleep vs inactivity) and assess how these patterns vary across individuals. The investigation will capitalise on a long-term study of lactating grey seals at the Isle of May  (Scotland), which provides both behavioural and biotelemetry data, including heart-rate metrics and accelerometry, for multiple females across multiple years. Further, resting comes with associated costs (such as reduced vigilance), and this study will adopt a holistic approach to examining time-activity budgets to explore these trade-offs.  The aim is to better understand individual differences in energetic management during this key life-history phase. There may also be scope for some additional field-based data collection, but this will depend upon opportunity.

Potential candidates should be able to evidence a sound understanding of contemporary behavioural ecology and ethology, in terms of both principles and practice. Candidates will also require strong data analytical skills, including experience of modern statistical modelling techniques. Experience with R and analysis of behavioural data is advantageous. Potential candidates should be able to demonstrate the ability to conduct prolonged periods of behavioural observations from archived video footage, while remaining focused, and maintaining accuracy and precision and enthusiasm! Ability to work independently and as part of a team is 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. Candidates should be able to demonstrate competency in the English language (see: English Language Requirements - Durham University<https://www.dur.ac.uk/study/international/entry-requirements/english-language-requirements/>).


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 2024. They must have fulfilled Durham University’s requirements regarding English language ability and must not require a pre-sessional course as a condition of their place.

See: https://www.dur.ac.uk/learningandteaching.handbook/1/3/3/

*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, (s.d.twiss at durham.ac.uk) with a CV and covering letter, detailing your reasons for applying for the project. Please do this at least 1 month prior to the application deadline (i.e. by early January 2024). Only the best applicants will be asked to submit a full application in time for the application deadline. UK and Non-UK students are advised 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: Wednesday 31st January 2024 at 5 pm (GMT)


Dr. Sean Twiss,
Associate Professor in Animal Behaviour and Behavioural Ecology,
Department of Biosciences,
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> Dr Sean Twiss - Durham University<https://www.durham.ac.uk/staff/s-d-twiss/>
Blog: http://sealbehaviour.wordpress.com/
Behaviour, Ecology and Evolution Research (BEER) Centre: www.dur.ac.uk/beer-centre<https://owa.dur.ac.uk/owa/redir.aspx?C=AjvknJfcq0-zlL0498uhGGKmvrw4G9MIOkl7uzB2o0DQWJkijfaedd4PLox8gN2oJ64a8h9XCa8.&URL=http%3a%2f%2fwww.dur.ac.uk%2fbeer-centre>

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