‘Personality’ describes consistent behavioural differences between individuals. For example, some individuals may explore novel environments consistently more than others, resulting in different personalities along an exploration–avoidance axis. Exploration tendency may then be correlated with behaviour in a different context. Why such personality differences exist is intriguing – if individuals were more flexible in their behaviour, individuals could adapt their behaviour to variable natural environments. This PhD will investigate whether different personalities are associated with different life-history strategies, what their fitness consequences are, and the genetic basis of personality using genomic markers in a natural population.
In cooperatively breeding societies, individuals help to raise offspring that are not their own. Why individuals do this is a fascinating question. Individuals may remain in their natal territory and help to raise offspring that are not their own, they may stay and not help, or they may disperse to find a breeding position of their own. These different life-history strategies may be expected to favour a range of personalities, making cooperative breeding systems ideal for investigating the evolution of personality.
Theoretically, personalities may evolve if they are linked to an individual’s state. For example, risk-avoiding individuals should have higher future fitness expectations than riskier explorative individuals. Additionally, personalities could evolve if they are linked to frequency dependent fitness benefits. Accurate fitness measures, such as survival and reproduction, are fundamental to this question but they can be very difficult to measure in natural populations, as individuals may disperse from open study areas. Closed populations offer a solution to this, which when the subject of long-term studies that generate lifetime data over multiple generations offer a unique opportunity to study the evolution of personality.
For personalities to evolve, they must have a fitness benefit and a genetic basis. While studies of individual differences in behaviour in natural populations have shown that they can be repeatable and heritable, little is known about their underlying genetic basis. Candidate genes have been identified but they tend to explain a small amount of genetic variation and these effects can even differ across populations. A genomic approach is therefore required to investigated the genomic architecture of personalities.
The student will use the exceptional model system of the Seychelles warbler. Seychelles warblers are a cooperatively breeding bird that show repeatable and heritable variation in personality, and are studied on an isolated island where fitness can be measured accurately. The student will have access to the exceptional long-term dataset and genetic pedigree, gaining skills in fieldwork, genomics, quantitative genetics and statistics. For example, the genetic pedigree will be used to study the fitness consequences and life-history trade-offs associated with personality. Next-generation sequencing will be used to investigate genomic regions associated with personality. Bioinformatics and statistical skills are an advantage, but training will be provided. The student will benefit from interactions with members of Seychelles Warbler Project (http://seychelles-warbler-project.group.shef.ac.uk
) and a vibrant academic environment at the University of Leeds, including support from LeedsOmics (www.leedsomics.org).
The successful student will work with researchers at the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield, East Anglia and Groningen to investigate the causes and consequences of personality in a natural population. The student will address the following fundamental questions in evolutionary biology:
1. Does personality predict dispersal and helping behaviour?
2. What are the fitness consequences of personality – do risk-adverse individuals have higher early-life reproductive success than risk takers?
3. Which genomic regions explain variation in personality?
Applicants must hold an Honours (2.1 or higher) or Masters degree in a related subject, and have a keen interest in molecular ecology and evolution. Previous experience of bird ringing, fieldwork in harsh environments, Access databases, bioinformatics and statistics would be beneficial; however, excellent training will be provided (e.g. http://www.fbs.leeds.ac.uk/postgraduate/professionaldev.php
). The student will be required to conduct fieldwork for a minimum of three seasons (up to 3 months per season).
The student will be supervised by Dr Hannah Dugdale (SoB), Prof Keith Hamer (SoB), and Prof Terry Burke (U Sheffield), in collaboration with Prof David S Richardson (U East Anglia) and Prof Jan Komdeur (U Groningen).
Interviews are likley to be held in the week commencing 19th February.
Edwards HA, Burke T & Dugdale HL. 2017. Repeatable and heritable behavioural variation in a wild cooperative breeder. Behavioral Ecology, 28(3):686–676 http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/beheco/arx013
Edwards HA, Dugdale HL, Richardson DS, Komdeur J & Burke T. 2016. Exploration is dependent on reproductive state, not social state, in a cooperatively breeding bird. Behavioral Ecology, 27(6):1889-1896.
Edwards HA, Hajduck GK, Durieux G, Burke T & Dugdale HL. 2015. No association between personality and candidate gene polymorphisms in a wild bird population. PLoS ONE, 10(10): e0138439.