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QUADRAT DTP: Post-weaning dispersal behaviour of fallow deer fawns: investigating the roles of behaviour, growth and stress

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr D Jennings, Dr Greta Bocedi, Dr I Capellini  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Understanding animal dispersal processes is central to the study of ecology and evolution; it influences individual fitness, demography, genetic structure and species distribution. Animal movement can take the form of large-scale population migrations across vast areas, or can involve smaller scale dispersal of individuals between (local) social groups. In the latter case, the decisions underpinning whether to stay on the natal territory, is likely dependent on the benefits of moving versus costs for staying; for example, avoiding inbreeding or gaining access the otherwise limited resources versus increased competition with established residents.

The project: Whilst it is generally observed that juvenile males are most likely to disperse, we have observed that not all males will do so in our population. But why is this the case? You will investigate why some juvenile male fawns move from their maternal groups and establish themselves in the all-male (bachelor) group, whilst other stay longer with their maternal group, or fail to leave at all. What are the reasons underlying the disparity in these choices, and what, if any, are the fitness consequences for this difference in strategy? You will be expected to develop novel approaches and ideas to address this question, but potential questions include: do males that disperse invest in more in growth prior to dispersal, do they have more connected social networks, are they are less stressed or more aggressive than males that remain? This project will explore the links between behaviour, investment in growth and hormones (cortisol and testosterone) in relation to the fawn’s decision whether, and when to time its dispersal from the doe herd to take up residence in the bachelor herd.

Objective: To investigate dispersal behaviour of juvenile deer fawns in a free-ranging population.

Study site: The project is based at Phoenix Park (Dublin) on a free-ranging fallow deer population. Currently the herd consists of approximately 600 individuals, most of whom are marked with unique coloured-numbered ear tags. Males and females inhabit different territories, except for the October rut where males move to the female range. From birth in June (when they are tagged), fawns go through several life-critical stages; initially they adopt a hider strategy, live away from the main herd and are fully dependent on the mother for nutrition. In July, mothers gradually begin to bring their fawns into the doe herd where males remain until aged between eight and ten months when some individuals disperse and can be observed associating with the bucks in the male territories.

Training: You will receive training in data collection methods, processing and handling of large datasets including analyses using cutting-edge statistical techniques. Data collection using stereo-photogrammetry to estimate growth rates and training with dedicated software packages to estimate growth. You will be trained in laboratory techniques to assay hormone concentrations from fawn hair collected at tagging and again at first shed at ten months of age. 

Candidate Background: The successful candidate should have, or expect to achieve a 2.1 (honours) degree in psychology, biology, ecology, zoology or a related discipline. Experience with recording behaviour of animals in the field, effective communication and problem-solving abilities and the ability to work alone and in groups in the field for extended time periods. It would be desirable if the candidate had a Masters degree in a relevant subject, knowledge of R and the ability to manage and maintain large datasets.

More project details are available here: https://www.quadrat.ac.uk/quadrat-projects/

How to apply: https://www.quadrat.ac.uk/how-to-apply/ 

Funding Notes

QUADRAT studentships are open to UK and overseas candidates. Funding covers:
• A monthly stipend for accommodation and living costs, based on UKRI rates (currently £17,668 pa for 2022/23, updated annually)
• Fees (home rate tuition fees and/or fee waiver for overseas fees, where applicable)
• Research and training costs
For further information before applying please check full funding and eligibility information: https://www.quadrat.ac.uk/funding-and-eligibility/
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