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Behavioural Mechanisms Driving Collective Smothering in Hens

Project Description

Understanding the qualities of captive environments that cause abnormal behaviour has been a major topic in animal welfare. However, smothering - a type of abnormal behaviour in hens - has received little study to date. ‘Creeping’ smothering behaviour is where a high density of birds begins collectively milling and moving, and results in the death of hens by suffocation. Little is known about the causes of smothering and yet it accounts for 21% of flock mortality in laying hens and is UK egg producers’ top health and welfare concern. This project will use agent-based modelling of hen collective movements to identify the behavioural mechanisms causing smothering. Mechanistic data-driven agent-based models will be developed and parameterized with empirical data from video tracking of hens, and experiments performed on the models.

The objectives of the project are:
1. Analyze data from automated tracking of hens to understand mechanisms behind movements of individuals
2. Develop a mechanistic agent-based model that reproduces the collective behaviour
3. Implement data-informed differences between individuals to examine the effect of heterogeneity on the frequency of smothering
4. Experiment with the model to understand the conditions under which smothering is most and least likely to occur

Funding Notes

This is a self-funded project. Applicants need to have adequate funds to meet the costs of a self-funded research project including tuition fees and living expenses for the duration of the research programme. Please see information on tuition fee costs, living expenses and funding opportunities.


Applications are welcome for either for a 1-year MSc by Research or for a 3-year PhD.

How good is research at University of York in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.37

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