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Evolution of cooperation in Trinidadian guppies: cooperative investment and social trait. PhD in Psychology (NERC GW4+ DTP)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, January 06, 2020
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Lead Supervisor
Dr. Safi K. Darden, Department of Psychology, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors
Dr. Christos Ioannou, School of Biological Biosciences, University of Bristol
Dr. Tim Fawcett, Department of Psychology, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter
Prof. Shaun Killen, Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, University of Glasgow

Location: University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter, EX4 4QJ

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC GW4+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The GW4+ DTP consists of the GW4 Alliance of research-intensive universities: the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five unique and prestigious Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in the Earth, Environmental and Life sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in scientific research, business, technology and policy-making. For further details about the programme please see

For eligible successful applicants, the studentships comprises:

- A stipend for 3.5 years (currently £15,009 p.a. for 2019/20) in line with UK Research and Innovation rates
- Payment of university tuition fees;
- A research budget of £11,000 for an international conference, lab, field and research expenses;
- A training budget of £3,250 for specialist training courses and expenses.
- Travel and accomodation is covered for all compulsory DTP cohort events
- No course fees for courses run by the DTP

We are currently advertising projects for a total of 10 studentships at the University of Exeter

Project Background

Understanding the evolution and maintenance of cooperation in natural systems is one of the longest standing challenges in biology. A majority of animal species live in dynamic social groupings where individuals regularly interact and cooperate with non-kin; presenting us with an evolutionary conundrum. A number of theories have been put forward for how cooperation has come about in such systems and how it can persist. This has created tremendous scope, and need, for empirical tests of the assumptions and predictions put forward by such theories and modelling of cooperative decisions made against a back-ground of real-world patterns of social contact.

Project Aims and Methods

The overall aim of the project is to test assumptions and predictions put forward by current theoretical models investigating the evolution and persistence of cooperation in the natural world. In particular questions around the co-evolution of cooperative investment and social traits will be addressed, but there is plenty of scope for project development by the student. The project will apply both empirical and theoretical approaches using Trinidadian guppies (Poecilia reticulata) as a model system. In this system individuals cooperate during predator inspection and have been demonstrated to vary phenotypically in their cooperativeness.

The project will be able to take advantage of a unique assemblage of guppy populations and their most common fish predators maintained by University of Exeter supervisor Safi Darden and University of Bristol supervisor Christos Ioannou. Supervisors Darden and Ioannou bring expertise in working with each of the systems and within the core research areas. In addition, expertise in evolutionary modelling and fish physiology will be brought to the project by co-supervisors Tim Fawcett and Shaun Killen, respectively.

Funding Notes

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2020 entry. For eligible students, the studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,009 per annum for 2019-20.


References / Background reading list

Brask, J. B., Croft, D. P., Edenbrow, M., James, R., Bleakley, B. H., Ramnarine, I. W., ... & Darden, S. K. (2019). Evolution of non-kin cooperation: social assortment by cooperative phenotype in guppies. Royal Society Open Science, 6(1), 181493.

Croft, D. P., Edenbrow, M., & Darden, S. K. (2015). Assortment in social networks and the evolution of cooperation. Animal social networks, 13-23.

Fletcher, J. A., & Doebeli, M. (2008). A simple and general explanation for the evolution of altruism. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 276(1654), 13-19.

Geoffroy, F., Baumard, N., & Andre, J. B. (2019). Why cooperation is not running away. bioRxiv, 316117.

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