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Dynamics of flocking in birds: the role of individual recognition and social learning

Project Description

Many birds travel in flocks comprising many individuals. During flights, decisions have to be made about who leads and follows, who is positioned where in the flock, and who you want to be flying beside. In bird flocks, these decisions have to be made rapidly during flight. This project aims to (a) investigate the roles that individual personality traits and morphological/physiological parameters play in determining flock behaviour and flock positioning, (b) understand how individuals recognise one another and make decisions about whom to position themselves with, and (c) determine whether individuals extract more information and learn socially from preferred individuals within a flock.
This interdisciplinary project will use free-flying captive homing pigeons (Columba livia) and southern bald ibis (Geronticus calvus) to address these three key questions. Key methodological approaches will involve the use of accelerometer and GPS loggers, construction of social networks, personality testing, social learning trials, respirometry, and designing experiments to test and manipulate individual recognition and appearance. The project involves working extensively with live birds, suiting someone interested in designing novel experiments for individual recognition using innovative digital approaches, and working with large data sets. The PhD would likely involve fieldwork in Europe, and collaborating with zoological collections and conservation organisations. Understanding how large flocks are organised has implications for robotics, artificial intelligence and UAV optimisation, while also having benefits for understanding avian collisions with man-made structures.

Interviews are provisionally planned for the period 25th February to 8th March 2019.
Please follow the application link below to our school web page for full instructions on eligibility and how to apply

Funding Notes

The studentship award will cover the cost of institutional tuition fees and provide an annual tax-free living stipend with at the standard RCUK rate with London weighting. The amount is currently at £16,777pa for the 18/19 Academic Year


-Portugal, S.J., Ricketts, R., Chappell, J., White, C.R., Shepard, E.L. and Biro, D. (2017) Boldness traits, not dominance, predicts exploratory flight range and homing behaviour in homing pigeons. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 372: 20160234.
-Biro, D., Sasaki, T. and Portugal, S.J. (2016) Bringing a time-depth perspective to collective animal behaviour. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 31: 550-56.

Related Subjects

How good is research at Royal Holloway, University of London in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 24.00

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