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*EASTBIO* Building for a changing world

School of Biology

, Wednesday, January 06, 2021 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

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. Blue tits building in St Andrews 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: do they build different nests in warmer temperatures? if so, do these nests affect the builder’s reproductive success? Laboratory manipulations of temperature will be conducted at Deakin, Victoria, Australia in collaboration with Prof Kate Buchanan, where the role of early-life experience on subsequent building behaviour may also be explored.

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, and at the Roslin Institute, and at both national (e.g. ASAB) and international conferences. All of Healy and Meddle’s students are encouraged 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 (),

Application procedure
In order to apply for this position, please follow the application instructions under to obtain the EASTBIO Application form.

Then, submit the EASTBIO application form and your academic transcripts as part of a formal online application-

In the online application form, you will be asked to provide contact details for two academic references. Please ask your referees to use the EASTBIO reference form provided under the link above when preparing their support letter, and to ensure references are provided by the deadline on 6 January 2021.

Funding Notes

This 4 year PhD project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership View Website.

This opportunity is open to UK and International students and provides funding to cover stipend and UK level tuition. For international candidates, the University of St Andrews will cover the Home-International fee difference. Please refer to UKRI website and Annex B of the UKRI Training Grant Terms and Conditions for full eligibility criteria.

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