Behavioural resilience to climatic variability

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr Renee Firman  Applications accepted all year round  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Now more than ever biologists are faced with the challenge of predicting how species will cope with extreme and rapid fluctuations in climatic conditions. Behavioural adaptation has the potential to function as a mechanism for dealing with climate change. And yet, the effectiveness of individuals and populations to adaptively change their behaviour as a survival response to climatic variability remains poorly understood.

Recent research has indicated that as Australia’s great landmass continues to dry on an evolutionary timescale, behavioural adaptations – such as sociality – may be key to survival for some species. However, the quickening pace of contemporary climate change demands that there is an urgent need to understand how species will respond on an ecological timescale. At this scale, immediately observable behavioural shifts are likely to provide early signals of climate stress prior to any detectable changes in demography or distribution. Despite the value of monitoring behaviour(s) as a management tool for quickly detecting species responses to changing climates, research to date has focused on a limited suite of traits, ecological contexts and climatic stimuli.

This project, which studies the enigmatic pebble mound mouse (Pseudomys chapmani) in the Pilbara region of Western Australia (a biodiversity hotspot known for its climatic variability) aims to uncover whether changes in behaviour are effective for dealing with environmental extremes and unpredictable climatic conditions. It will integrate laboratory- and field-based investigations to examine behavioural responses to climatic variability and establish how these responses influence individual fitness and future population resilience.

We are looking for people that are competent, confident and content to work remotely in the field. Ideally, students will come to the project with good experience in trapping and handling small mammals. Experience with genetic data is also desirable.

To be a successful applicant you would ideally have a background in evolutionary or conservation biology. You would either have, or be predicted to get, a first-class Honours or MSc degree at an institution of high repute. The degree must have included a research project that represents a significant contribution to the final mark. While papers are important evidence of research ability a high GPA weighs more on the ranking process, so if your GPA is good but you have no publications please consider applying.

If you are interested, please email us with your academic record, your CV and a brief letter stating your interest and background.

Applications are open for non-Australian applicants both in Australia and overseas.

Funding Notes

Fully-funded PhD opportunities are available, however we always encourage people to apply for their own scholarship. The next domestic round (Australian and New Zealand applicants) has a closing date of 15th March 2022.


Firman R.C., Rubenstein D.R., Moran J.M., Rowe K.C., Buzatto B.A. 2020. Extreme and variable conditions drive the evolution of sociality in Australian rodents. Current Biology 30, 691-697.
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