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The co-evolution of hummingbird cognition and hummingbird-pollinated plants

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Sunday, December 01, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Animals’ lives are filled with decision-making: where to find food, what food to eat, which conspecifics to mate with, where to live, how to avoid predators and more but most of what we know of their learning and memory abilities, the information to which they pay attention and so on, comes from animals tested under laboratory conditions. One significant exception is the long-running experimental work on the cognitive abilities of male rufous hummingbirds holding foraging territories in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Canada. We now know that these birds learn and remember a lot: spatial locations, colours, and all kinds of time. But they are also important plant pollinators. In this project, the aim is to examine how the hummingbirds’ cognitive abilities are shaped by the plants they pollinate.
This project will entail investigating these questions in the rufous hummingbird using behavioural experiments and quantification of plant traits at a site in the West Castle valley, Alberta, Canada. Experience of field work is essential and at least some background in animal cognition and/or botany would be helpful.
There are multiple kinds of training that will be intrinsic to this project: field work and experimental design skills acquired as a result of training and testing; plant trait analyses; analyses of the experimental data; writing papers; presenting data at lab group meetings (Healy has a weekly lab group meeting), national and international conferences; attendance at seminars (multiple available at all three sites). Attending career development courses that are also available at the University will be encouraged as will demonstrating on Biology undergraduate courses.

Funding Notes

Eligibility requirements: Upper second-class degree in Biology or a related area.
Funding: Fees and stipend is provided for 3.5 years.


Hornsby, M.A.W., Healy, S.D. & Hurly, T.A. 2017. Wild hummingbirds can use the geometry of a flower array. Behavioural Processes, 139, 33-37.
Pritchard, D.J., Scott, R.D., Healy, S.D. & Hurly, T.A. 2016. Wild rufous hummingbirds use local landmarks to return to rewarded locations. Behavioural Processes, 122, 59-66.
Tello-Ramos, M.C., Hurly, T.A. & Healy, S.D. 2015. Traplining in hummingbirds: flying short-distance sequences amongst several locations. Behavioral Ecology, 26, 812-819.
Tello-Ramos, M.C., Hurly, T.A., Higgott, C. & Healy, S.D. 2015. Time-place learning in wild, free-living hummingbirds. Animal Behaviour, 104, 123-129.

How good is research at University of St Andrews in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 50.45

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

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