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Effects of captive breeding on personality and cognition in the North African houbara bustard Psychology – Masters by Research (Fees Only)

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  • Full or part time
    Dr J Madden
    Dr E Sorato
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

The University of Exeter’s College of Life and Environmental Sciences, in partnership with Reneco, is inviting applications for a fees-only scholarship to commence in May 2019 or as soon as possible thereafter. For eligible students the studentship will cover UK/EU tuition fees for 2 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study. The student will be based in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at the Streatham Campus in Exeter. However, fieldwork will take place in Eastern Morocco (ECWP, Missour). Besides Morocco, the student will also be expected to spend time at the Reneco HQ in Abu Dhabi, UAE, to conduct data analysis under the supervision of Enrico Sorato and present research outcomes.

The endangered North African houbara bustard (Chlamydotis undulata undulata) has been declining drastically throughout its range due to overhunting and habitat degradation. Since the late 90s the species has been the subject of a large-scale captive breeding programme at the Emirates Center for Wildlife Propagation (ECWP), Missour, with currently more than 15 000 birds produced annually for release in the wild. The intention of this rearing and release is to restore wild populations and supplement hunting grounds for regulated falconry ( However, potential genetic adaptation to captivity may lead to changes in behaviour and life history traits, which may be detrimental in the wild.

The successful applicant will investigate the effects of captive-breeding on personality traits and cognition, by conducting behavioural tests on captive houbaras throughout ontogeny. By testing individuals with varying known histories of captive breeding, and by using quantitative genetics statistical methods, we will assess the extent of adaptation to captivity and disentangle the relative impact of additive genetic, parental and environmental effects. This study will contribute to understanding how selection shapes variation in personality and cognitive traits, and could help improve breeding protocols to avoid adaptation to captivity.
This project offers multidisciplinary academic training in behavioural/cognitive ecology, as well as practical applications for conservation of an endangered species.

In addition to funding fees at the University of Exeter, Reneco is also expected to provide the student with research costs, travel, accommodation and a small stipend for living costs in the field. The scholarship will be awarded on the basis of merit for 2 years of full-time study to commence in May 2019. The collaboration with the named project partner is subject to contract.

This award provides annual funding to cover UK/EU tuition fees only. Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee.

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