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, living with other individuals often leads to conflict. How conflict is managed depends on many factors, and individuals may differ in approach: Some individuals may react to aggressive encounters with avoidance or flight, while others may take a more proactive approach involving communication or appeasement. Some personality traits may be tightly linked to rank within social hierarchies, however, the preferred type of conflict management may also be governed by extrinsic factors, such as the complexity of the social and physical environment.
This project aims to manipulate environmental complexity within both physical and social contexts, using 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 and conflict management strategies differ between individuals, how they depend on group composition, and to what extent the expression of behavioural phenotypes is influenced by the physical environment. Importantly, developmentally experienced environment can influence the expression of agonistic behaviour and is likely to influence coping mechanisms and stress response. However, the relationship between conflict management strategies and neuroendocrine circuits in the brain are unknown. We therefore aim to integrate our behavioural measures with the examination of the physiological underpinnings of conflict management strategies, by measuring activation of the key systems involved in regulation of stress responses, aggression, and social behaviour.
The PhD student will join our flourishing School of Biological & Environmental Sciences, at Liverpool John Moores University and work under the supervisory team of Dr Susanne Zajitschek, Dr Adam Reddon and Dr Will Swaney.