University College London Featured PhD Programmes
University of Southampton Featured PhD Programmes
University of Bristol Featured PhD Programmes
University College London Featured PhD Programmes
University College London Featured PhD Programmes

QUADRAT DTP: The effects of maternal stress on offspring survival in the fallow deer

Project Description

The impact of climate change and human-induced habitat fragmentation has resulted in an unprecedented planet-wide biodiversity crisis. Thus, it is crucial to understand the conditions which influence the survival of vulnerable individuals. Many different factors promote survival: for example, differences between an individual’s physical characteristics (e.g. body mass), the amount of parental care received, and changes in prevailing environmental conditions such as predator density and weather influence survival probability. However, these factors explain only a limited proportion of observed mortality patterns, thus, our understanding of why some individuals die, particularly within juvenile cohorts when mortality rates are among the highest, is incomplete [e.g. Tosa et al. 2018].

Stress is associated with an increased risk of mortality, and there is considerable evidence of a link between maternal stress during pregnancy and early-life mortality in offspring (Entringer et al. 2011). Accumulating evidence indicates that the developing foetus responds to conditions experienced by the mother, and that exposure to stress may have life-limiting effects. Using the fallow deer as the model species, the objective of this project will be to investigate the association between maternal behaviour and stress and that of juvenile behaviour and mortality.

The student will collect behavioural and environmental data from individually identifiable female fallow deer resident in Phoenix Park, Dublin. Fawns are tagged annually in June and a 30% mortality rate is experienced in the first year. The student will observe pregnant females from mating to birth, recording feeding/resting rates, vigilance behaviour, human/dog contact and weather conditions. Estimates of long-term chronic maternal stress will be determined through cortisol levels present in hair samples (Koren et al. 2019). It will therefore be possible to estimate the extent to which maternal stress during foetal development predicts fawn survival.

The student will be trained in a variety of different methodologies relating to the collection of behavioural data in the field. In addition, they will be trained in the capture, handling and measurement of deer fawns. They will also receive training in the extraction of hormones from hair samples. The project will involve modelling and full training in the application and use of statistical models relating to behaviour and hormones, and the modelling of population dynamics will be provided.

Start date:

1 October 2020


42 months


Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with
a minimum of a 2.2 Honours degree may be considered providing they have a Distinction at Master’s level.

Application procedure:

• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast
• State name of the lead supervisor as ‘Name of Proposed Supervisor’ on application
• State ‘QUADRAT DTP’ as Intended Source of Funding
• Select ‘Visit Website’ to apply now

Funding Notes

This project is funded by the NERC QUADRAT-DTP and is available to UK/EU nationals who meet the UKRI eligibility criteria. Please visit View Website for more information.

The studentship provides funding for tuition fees, stipend and a research training and support grant subject to eligibility.


Entringer et al. 2011. Stress exposure in intrauterine life is associated with shorter telomere length I young adulthood. PNAS, 108, E513-E518.

Koren et al. 2019. Towards the validation of endogenous steroid testing in wildlife hair. Journal of Applied Ecology, 56, 547-561.

Tosa et al. 2018. Increased overwinter mortalities of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) fawns during a drought year. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 96, 55-61.

How good is research at Queen’s University Belfast in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 24.40

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

Email Now

Insert previous message below for editing? 
You haven’t included a message. Providing a specific message means universities will take your enquiry more seriously and helps them provide the information you need.
Why not add a message here
* required field
Send a copy to me for my own records.

Your enquiry has been emailed successfully

FindAPhD. Copyright 2005-2019
All rights reserved.