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The effects of the social and physical environment on conflict management behaviour and stress physiology in a group living fish

   Faculty of Science

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

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, 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.

Funding Notes

This is a fully funded PhD studentship (consisting of full UK tuition fees for three years and student stipend at UK Research Council rates). The nature of the funding means only UK/Home students are eligible to apply for this studentship.


In addition to holding a masters or strong degree (e.g. 2.1 or higher) in zoology, animal behaviour or an equivalent biological sciences field, the ideal applicant will be able to demonstrate significant interest in and prior experience in working with fish. A good working knowledge of statistical analysis using R, strong organisational skills, and the ability to work both independently and collaboratively with a team would be advantageous. Full training in all required techniques, advanced statistical analysis and appropriate research methodologies will be provided by the supervisory team and through our Doctoral Academy.

For an informal discussion or to enquire about this opportunity please email for more information.

We are committed to make biological/environmental research more inclusive and are therefore keen to support candidates from groups that have long been underrepresented and/or marginalised. If you belong to such groups, we would like to offer dedicated pre-application advice and mentorship, so that you can prepare the strongest possible application. Please contact Dr Nicola Koyama or Prof Stefano Mariani.

Both the Faculty of Science and the School of Biological & Environmental Sciences have dedicated Equality, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) Groups, with the School EDI Coordinator leading collective action to promote and embed a culture of equity, diversity and inclusivity. We have a proactive Student EDI group, a Cultural Diversity Student network for ethnic minority students, and a group of Inclusion Ambassadors, who are staff trained to deal with microaggression and harassment. As a School, we embarked upon activities to begin to decolonise programme curricula almost two years ago: and earlier this year were awarded an Athena Swan Bronze award in recognition of our equality initiatives and action plan.

To apply, email a CV and covering letter detailing your suitability for the project and contact details of two referees to Applicants need to be available for interview (by video) on January the 12th and able to start at short notice (in February 2023 intake).
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