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*EASTBIO* Building for a changing world: how do breeding birds respond to temperature variation?

Project Description

BBSRC Thematic Group: Frontier Bioscience
It may seem obvious that a bird’s nest plays an important role in reproduction. For example, the eggs or young in a nest that is exposed to predators, in a nest that gets too wet or too cold or is too loosely attached to a branch are unlikely to survive. How does a bird ‘know’ where to build its nest, what materials to use and what form it should take? For many, the answer is that bird nests are the product of “instinct”. By using zebra finches, Taeniopygia guttata, Healy (St Andrews) and Meddle (Edinburgh) have recently overturned this long-standing belief with data that show that individual birds vary in the nests they build, depending on the environment they experience. Furthermore, the birds’ experience with nest materials of different physical structure influences subsequent material choice, the way in which builders handle nest material changes depending on the nest box into which they must manoeuvre the material and birds will choose materials based on the success of a previous reproductive attempt. Finally, lab experiments (Healy) and field data (Phillimore) show that building birds respond to temperature by changing what and when they build. Blue tits building in St Andrews and other parts of Scotland plus zebra finches building in the lab will enable the student to couple observational field data with experimental manipulations of the birds’ behaviour in the laboratory, to determine the responses birds make to their environment and how these nests affect the builder’s reproductive success. Laboratory manipulations of temperature on breeding behaviour in zebra finches will be conducted at Deakin, Victoria, Australia in collaboration with Prof Kate Buchanan.
Not only is nest building a relatively undescribed behaviour, how temperature elicits changes in a bird’s behaviour is still relatively unknown. The observational and experimental behavioural work will be supplemented by neural and physiological analyses to explore the mechanistic basis of temperature responses.

This project would offer the successful candidate a wide range of training opportunities including UK field work, overseas lab work, experimental design, neurobiology, and statistical analysis of a range of types of data. There will be multiple opportunities to present data to Healy’s lab group, within the School, at the Roslin Institute and the Institute of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Edinburgh and at both national and international conferences. All of the supervisors encourage their students to publish their data during their PhD and to take part in presenting their data to non-academic audiences.

Informal enquiries very welcome. Contact: Sue Healy (),

Funding Notes

This project is eligible for the EASTBIO Doctoral Training Partnership: View Website

This opportunity is only open to UK nationals (or EU students who have been resident in the UK for 3+ years immediately prior to the programme start date) due to restrictions imposed by the funding body.

Apply by 5.00 pm on 5 January 2020 following the instructions on how to apply at: View Website

Please also upload the EASTBO Application Form as an additional document to the University of St Andrews online Application.

Informal inquiries to the primary supervisor are very strongly encouraged.

How good is research at University of St Andrews in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 50.45

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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