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Reproductive suppression in mammals: social mediators and implications for conservation

  • Full or part time
    Prof Paula Stockley
    Prof JL Hurst
  • Application Deadline
    Wednesday, January 09, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Reproductive suppression occurs in diverse mammalian species and may be defined broadly as the inhibition of reproductive physiology or behaviour in response to environmental conditions. Conspecifics are an important component of the environment that can influence reproductive suppression. The social environment can therefore have significant evolutionary consequences both for mechanisms via which individuals inhibit their own reproduction, and for behaviours that function to induce reproductive suppression in others.

Reproductive suppression has important implications for conservation programmes. As a result of sensitivity to environmental conditions, individuals of either sex may fail to breed, either in captivity or in natural environments. Understanding the role of social influences in reproductive suppression can therefore be of great assistance to the success of conservation breeding programmes.

Objectives
1. To investigate drivers and mechanisms of reproductive suppression, the student will design experiments testing predictions of sexual selection and kin selection theory. Using wild rodents as subjects under carefully controlled naturalistic conditions will allow manipulation of key variables in the social environment (e.g. levels of relatedness, age asymmetry, competition and social group size). Non-invasive tests will quantify behavioural and physiological responses to contrasting conditions and the role of odour cues in reproductive suppression.

2. In collaboration with CASE partner Chester Zoo, the student will extend their investigations of reproductive suppression with the aim of promoting improved breeding success of endangered species. Non-invasive endocrine and behavioural studies, combined with analysis of long-term breeding records, surveys, and population modelling, will be applied with the goal of providing novel insights and practical solutions to improve the success of European captive breeding programmes.

The student will join a highly active research environment, both within the Mammalian Behaviour & Evolution Group at the University of Liverpool’s Leahurst Campus (https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/mbe/) and Chester Zoo’s Science Team, as a Conservation Scholar (https://www.chesterzoo.org/conservation-and-science/work-with-us/conservation-scholars).

Funding Notes

Competitive funding of tuition fee, research costs and stipend (£14,777 tax-free, 2018-19) from the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership ACCE, View Website. ACCE – a collaboration between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, and York – is the only dedicated ecology/evolution/conservation Doctoral Training Partnership in the UK.

Applications (CV, letter of application, 2 referees) by email to , deadline: January 9 2019. Interviews in or after the week commencing: 11th February 2019. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed for only one project from the ACCE partnership.

This project is also available to self-funded students. A fees bursary may be available.

References

Coombes HA, Stockley P & Hurst JL (2018) Female chemical signalling underlying reproduction in mammals. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 44: 851-873.

Stockley, P., Bottell, L. (now Holmes, L.) and Hurst, J.L. 2013. Wake up and smell the conflict: odour signals in female competition. Royal Society Philosophical Transactions B, 368 (1631) DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2013.0082

Stockley, P. & Bro-Jørgensen, J. (2011) Female competition and its evolutionary consequences in mammals. Biological Reviews 86: 341-366.

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