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Unravelling map and compass cues in bird navigation

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  • Full or part time
    Dr R Holland
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

A Fully funded PhD studentship to start October 2018 is available in the College of Natural Sciences at Bangor University, supported by its Great Heritage fund. The studentship will cover the full cost of UK tuition fees, plus a maintenance stipend in line with RCUK rates (provisional £14,553 per annum for full time award holders who are resident in the UK) for 3 years as well as funding for the research. This project is one of three that is being advertised, and one PhD will be awarded to the best candidate determined after interview. The primary supervisor of this project will be Dr Richard Holland, Senior Lecturer in Animal Behaviour in the School of Biological Sciences, https://www.bangor.ac.uk/biology/staff/richard-holland.php.en.

Project information

For animals such as birds, moving over large distances require accurate navigation mechanisms as even small errors can have profound consequences for survival. The cues birds use for navigation remain poorly understood, but the theoretical background has been established for more than 50 years. The “map and compass” theory proposes that birds establish their location using a map, and then take up a compass direction to fly home. This has appeared even to be the case at familiar locations where visual landmarks should override compass cues. New evidence suggests that this may not always be correct, and that apparent compass cues may also be integrated into the map component of navigation. This PhD project, will revisit the role of directional cues in the navigation system of birds to reassess how they may contribute to the “map and compass” system in bird navigation.

The project will use two experimental systems to investigate the way in which information such as the sun, star and magnetic compass are integrated into the navigation system. For work on the familiar area map homing pigeons will be used. Bangor University has an established pigeon loft at the botanical gardens at Treborth. Experimental work will involve tracking experimentally manipulated birds with GPS after displacement, using statistical decision theory as applied to human sensory systems to understand how cue conflicts are resolved (collaboration with Simon Watt, School of Psychology) and the novel technique of monitoring heart rate as a window on cognitive decision points (collaboration with Charles Bishop, SBS). For work on the unfamiliar area navigation mechanism, the student will work on songbirds such as the reed warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus), at our established field site at Neusiedler-see in Austria. They will use orientation cages to measure the orientation behaviour of migratory birds, and the birds will be placed in Helmholtz coils to change aspects of the magnetic field to test how these parameters are used in the navigation system. This work is part of an established collaboration with Oldenburg University and the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the student will work alongside a post-doctoral scientist at this site.

Applications are invited from candidates who have or are about to obtain a minimum of a 2i Honours degree, or an appropriate Master’s degree in biological, environmental or related sciences. Applicants will need to drive for fieldwork so should have a UK driving licence by the start date. The closing date for applications is 11th March. Interviews will be held in Bangor approximately 4 weeks after the closing date. To apply candidates should email a Curriculum Vitae including names and addresses of two referees and a letter of motivation explaining why they want to apply for the project and detailing any relevant experience they have, to primary supervisor Richard Holland ([Email Address Removed]).

The University values diversity and equality and encourages applications from all sections of the community. We welcome applications for full and part-time study, depending on the needs of applicants. The scholarship is open to UK Nationals and EU students who can satisfy UK residency requirements. Proof of English Language Competency (6.0 IELTS min.) will also be needed.

Bangor University is a vibrant research-led institution, uniquely situated between the mountains of Snowdonia and the sea. The School of Biological Sciences (SBS) has 26 academic staff and 20 support staff. The student body consists of over 600 undergraduates and over 60 postgraduates. Core research interests include animal behaviour, physiology, conservation, molecular ecology and evolution, environmental microbiology and plant science.

How good is research at Bangor University in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?
(joint submission with Aberystwyth University)

FTE Category A staff submitted: 35.35

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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