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The effect of developmental enrichment on personality, stress physiology and conflict management behaviour in a highly social fish

   Faculty of Science

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  Dr S. Zajitschek, Dr A Reddon, Dr William Swaney  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Group living offers many advantages for animals, including protection from predators and the opportunity to cooperate. However, as resources like food or reproductive opportunities are limited, group living often leads to conflict. How conflict is managed depends on many factors, and individuals may differ in their approach. Some individuals may react to aggressive encounters with avoidance or flight, while others may take a more proactive approach involving communication or appeasement. Experiences in early life may affect social competence, personality, and the responses to stress, which may all influence conflict management strategies.

This project aims to manipulate environmental complexity during development in the highly social daffodil cichlid fish (Neolamprologus pulcher), which forms complex hierarchies that can be manipulated in the laboratory. The prospective candidate will investigate how personality traits, physiology, and conflict management strategies differ between individuals exposed to physical environments of varying complexity early in life. More complex environments offering more shelter may give animals a sense of safety encouraging greater social interaction early in life which may influence social competence and stress coping mechanisms. We plan to integrate behavioural measures of conflict management with the examination of the key systems involved in regulation of stress responses, aggression, and social behaviour.

The successful candidate will be working in our custom fish facilities at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) and be integrated into our flourishing “Behavioural Ecology and Physiology research Group” in the School of Biological & Environmental Sciences.

Prospective students should have a keen interest in and desire to develop their knowledge of animal behaviour, zoology and neurobiology, with good bachelor's and master's degrees in relevant disciplines.  A good working knowledge of statistical analysis using R, strong organisational skills, and the ability to work both independently and collaboratively with a team and prior experience working with fish would be advantageous. Full training in all required techniques, advanced statistical analysis and appropriate research methodologies will be provided by the supervisory team (Dr. Susanne Zajitschek, Dr. Adam Reddon and  Dr Will Swaney) and through our Doctoral Academy. 

Funding Notes

The selected student will be entered for intramural funding via the 2023/24 LJMU VC PhD Studentship competition. If successful, the student will receive three years funding covering tuition fees, UKRI-standard student stipend and research support. If successful in the funding competition, the student will start in February 2024.
The competition is open to UK home students and international students, and applications from candidates from under-represented ethnic minority backgrounds are encouraged. Please see for full details of the funding competition and for eligibility.


Applicants should email a CV including contact details of two referees, and a cover letter detailing their suitability for the project, their experience and motivation, to Dr. Susanne Zajitschek:
Shortlisted applicants will be contacted for interview in early July.
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