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  Stranger danger: do individuals within a group preferentially extract movement information from familiar individuals, and how do they recognise them?

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr S Portugal  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Many animals travel in groups. There are benefits and consequences to group travel, neither of which will be distributed equally among group members. What determines who obtains the most benefits when travelling in a group? One factor could be your physical positioning within the group, but in turn, what dictates where you are positioned? This cost-benefit can be exacerbated in bird flocks, as the animals are moving through a three-dimensional fluid, and having to make decisions and precise movements at immensely high speeds. Positioning could result in you being in energetically advantageous or disadvantageous positions. Previously it has been demonstrated that (a) dominance hierarchies that persist on the ground do not dictate positioning within a flock, and (b) birds within a flock will stop following a previously known leader if they sense that the individual’s knowledge has been compromised. During flight, therefore, birds must be looking to specific individuals to extract information from. Is it your position within a flock, of the degree of information and knowledge you have that will determine how much other birds look to you for movement information? What are the energetic benefits and consequences of such positioning? How many other birds within the flock can actually see you? How do individuals recognise one another? These are pivotal questions for understanding how flock dynamics function and how the flow of information operates within flocks, yet relatively little is known about these factors. This project will use to track each individual’s positioning within a flock and monitor every movement of the body, focusing on wingbeat frequency and amplitude as proxies for work rate. Individual phenotyping will involve behavioural and physiological aspects, and aspects of working memory. Personality testing will include three components typically used to assess individual behavioural traits; boldness/exploration, neophobia and dominance. The key physiological determinant will be basal metabolic rate. These complimentary approaches will ascertain how behavioural or physiological parameters regulate positioning within a flock, and whether they determine leadership tendencies. Social network analyses for both ground- and flight-based scenarios will be used to ascertain which individuals prefer to be beside which. The model species are homing pigeons (Columba livia). Key hypotheses: (i) individuals who spend more time associating with each other on the ground will choose to fly beside each other during travel, (ii) during familiar flights, birds will look to regular known flock members (‘friends’) to receive information on trajectory and heading, largely ignoring the unfamiliar (‘stranger’) birds, (iii) during unfamiliar flights – from novel release sites – individuals will retrieve information on trajectory and heading equally from familiar and unfamiliar birds due to the lack of knowledge about route in any flock members, (iv) alterations of individual appearance will cause all flock-types and manipulations to respond the same as mixing up familiar and stranger birds, as birds are unable to recognise individuals, and (v) birds flying in scenario (ii) will exhibit lower wingbeat frequencies and amplitudes than those in manipulated flocks, suggesting there is a cost to flying with unfamiliar birds.

Entry requirements: MSc (can be pending) and a minimum of 2.1 BSc.

To apply follow link and instructions at Please indicate supervisor’s last name "Portugal" and project title in your application. Application deadline 12 March 2023

Biological Sciences (4)

Funding Notes

Fully funded PhD studentship for 3.5 years (UK student fee, research expenses and stipend aligned on UKRI conditions). Start Sept 2023


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