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The cost of reproduction in an ungulate with a capital breeding strategy

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr D Jennings, Dr H Kunc, Dr I Capellini  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

This project will investigate the extent to which reproductive investment is associated with decline in body condition and over-winter survival in the capital breeding fallow deer. 

Capital breeders severely reduce the amount of time they spend foraging when reproductively active, instead relying on stored energy for reproduction and related activities and for subsequent over-winter survival. This project will investigate a number of questions relating to the impact of a capital breeding strategy on the ability of males to invest in the rut, and on their future survival in the fallow deer. Because they limit food intake during this period, the cost of rutting for males can be severe. Prime-aged individuals lose approximately 25% of their body weight over a matter of a few weeks as they compete for access for reproductive opportunities. A key element of this project, therefore, will be to establish whether there is a relationship between day-to-day behaviour (e.g. territory acquisition and defence, aggression, mating success, resting) and decline in body condition of identifiable males during the annual rut.  

Mature and immature males should adopt quite different reproductive strategies with young individuals expected to invest in physical growth at the expense of reproduction until they reach prime breeding age. Nevertheless, despite the low probability of mating success some immature males actively participate in the rut by adopting a ‘sneaker’ strategy and consorting with females. The cost of adopting such a strategy in terms of future growth is unknown. A second objective will be to address this question.

The rutting season directly precedes winter with its consequent decline in forage availability and quality. However, we have a very poor understanding of how low-value, scarce winter forage affects survival, maintenance, and energy restocking by individuals in preparation for high cost outputs such as antler growth and the subsequent rut. This project will investigate the links between behaviour, body condition and weight gain and the probability of over-winter survival.

The accurate measurement of weight loss in free-ranging populations is rare because measuring body size in the field is usually not practical, or ethically permissible. Recent developments in laser digital-photogrammetry to measure body size in wild animals offers a resolution to this problem. Using this technology, the student will study the rutting behaviour and effort of individually identifiable male fallow deer resident at Phoenix Park (Dublin, Ireland) to address the objectives outlined above.

The successful student will be expected to lead and develop research questions related to the areas of interest noted above. As this project is a collaboration between Queen’s University Belfast and the Office of Public Works who manage the study site, the student will spend a portion of their time interning with the wildlife rangers under the supervision of the Head Ranger and Deer Keeper at Phoenix Park. 

Start Date: 1 October 2022

Duration: 3 years

How to apply: Applications must be submitted via

Funding Notes

This studentship is funded by the Northern Ireland Department for the Economy (DfE).
Candidates must be normally resident in the UK for the three year period prior to 1 October 2022. For non-EU nationals, the main purpose of residence must not have been to receive full-time education. Non-UK or Irish nationals must also have pre-settled or settled status (EU nationals) or settled status (non-EU nationals).
Full eligibility criteria:
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