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BBSRC SWDTP studentship: Vocal mediation of cooperation, cognition and culture
University of Exeter
College of Life and Environmental Sciences
Dr A Thornton
Dr A Radford
No more applications being accepted
Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
This research project is one of a number of projects at this institution. It is in competition for funding with one or more of these projects. Usually the project which receives the best applicant will be awarded the funding. The funding is available to citizens of a number of European countries (including the UK). In most cases this will include all EU nationals. However full funding may not be available to all applicants and you should read the full department and project details for further information.
PhD Research Project
The evolution of intelligence remains one of the most important, yet poorly understood, issues in biology. Despite suggestions that sociality is a critical driver of cognitive evolution, we know little about the cognitive mechanisms underpinning key social behaviours such as negotiation, cooperation and cultural learning. Crucially, virtually nothing is known about how these mechanisms relate to reproductive fitness.
The aim of this project is to utilise cognitive experiments, acoustic analyses and stochastic mechanism-fitting models (a novel analytical tool for determining cognitive/learning mechanisms) to investigate the role of vocalisations in enabling flexible responses to dynamic social environments. Specifically, it will use a long-term study population of wild jackdaws, members of the large-brained corvid family that form lifelong pair-bonds, to test vocal mediation of:
1. Negotiation within social relationships: the informational content of calls given during decision-making processes including coordination of pair movements, offspring provisioning and anti-predator responses.
2. Performance in cooperative problem-solving experiments: recognition of when cooperation and behavioural coordination are necessary to achieve rewards; use of calls to recruit suitable collaborators.
3. Cultural learning: exploring the importance of vocal signals in promoting skill acquisition during experimental social learning tasks.
Findings will be related to measures of pair-bond strength (e.g. vocal matching, affiliation) and seasonal reproductive success. This project will therefore represent the first attempt to determine how variation in socio-cognitive abilities impacts on individual fitness and will thus provide valuable insights into the selection pressures driving the evolution of intelligence.
1) Dr Alex Thornton, Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, Cornwall Campus (www.wildcognitionresearch.com)
2) Dr Andy Radford, School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol (http://www.bio.bris.ac.uk/research/behavior/Vocal_Communication/home.html)
This project has been shortlisted for funding by the BBSRC South West Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP), a collaboration between the Universities of Exeter, Bristol, Bath and Rothamsted Research institute. The four year programme is designed to provide training in cutting edge world-class bioscience and food security research, including a structured first year of tailored taught courses and the completion of two laboratory rotations before progression onto the three year PhD. In addition, following the postgraduate training policy of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), all students will complete a three month professional internship, providing an invaluable experience of work outside of academic research. Taught components in terms 1 and 2 of the first year will be based at the University of Exeter’s Streatham Campus in Exeter. For the remainder of the programme the successful applicant will primarily be based at the lively research environment of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation, at the University of Exeter’s Cornwall Campus near Falmouth. For further details about the programme please see http://www.bristol.ac.uk/swdtp/
Applicants for these studentships must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science or technology. This is a highly interdisciplinary project at the boundary of evolutionary biology and comparative cognition. The successful applicant will show a strong level of background knowledge in these areas and excellent analytical skills. Previous experience of behavioural field research would be advantageous.
The studentship will cover a stipend at the standard Research Council rate (£13,726 per annum for 2013-2014), research costs and tuition fees at the UK/EU rate for students who meet the residency requirements outlined by the BBSRC (see http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/web/FILES/Guidelines/studentship_eligibility.pdf).
Please contact Dr Alex Thornton (email@example.com) for informal enquires about the project. General enquiries can be made to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please upload the following documents to the studentship application form -
• Covering letter (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).
• Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)
• 2 references (if your referees prefer, they can email the reference direct to email@example.com)
If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone +44 (0)1392 725150/723706/723310.
The closing date for applications is midnight on Tuesday 2nd April 2013. We anticipate that interviews will take place at the end of April.
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