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Social networks in a cooperatively breeding bird


Monash University





Last Date to Apply:

01 Dec 2017


We are offering a PhD scholarship to work with Anne Peters and Carly Cook at Monash University (School of Biological Sciences) in Melbourne, Australia. We are looking for a highly motivated candidate to undertake an innovative project investigating how social interactions between individuals varies between the breeding and non-breeding season in an iconic cooperatively breeding bird, the superb fairy-wren Malurus cyaneus. The study population consists of ~ 300 individually colour banded birds located at Lysterfield Park near Melbourne. The successful applicant will need to have research interests, and experience, in behavioural ecology, animal behaviour, or quantitative ecology. Ideally the applicant will have experience with avian field research, preferably with small passerine birds; enthusiasm to undertake regular field work and an interest in quantitative methods are a must.


The project:

The fascinating social behaviour of cooperative breeding birds had led to significant research attention being focused on their social interactions during the breeding season. However, very little attention has been paid to their behaviour during the non-breeding season, despite this potentially being a time to establish social relationships with neighbours, identify potential future mating opportunities or territories. This novel project will use social network analysis to explore changes in the sociality of wrens between seasons, with a view to understanding whether sociality in the non-breeding season plays a role in the complex social interactions that occur during the breeding season or whether non-breeding sociality is driven by immediate benefits or environmental constraints. Superb fairy-wrens make an idea study species because they have tight breeding groups, with several helpers assisting a breeding pair, but also have high rates of infidelity among the breeding pair. Social network analysis is an emerging but underutilised tool in behavioural ecology, which has the potential to provide critical insights into the role of non-breeding season sociality in the complex social structures of cooperatively breeding birds. The outcomes will also provide information relevant to the needs of this and other similar woodland species during the non-breeding season, needs that are not often assessed.




The supervisors:

Associate Professor Anne Peters is a behavioural and evolutionary ecologist interested in the interactions between social and genetic mating systems, life-history trade-offs between investment in sexual and self-maintenance traits, and determinants of fitness in the wild. She has studied fairy-wrens since 20 years. To find out more see: sites.google.com/site/petersresearchgroup/


Dr Carly Cook is a conservation biologist interested in the use of network analysis to inform a range of conservation problems from private land conservation to measuring the connectivity of protected areas. Her research group is interested in a range of topics related to integrating science into conservation management. To find out more please visit: www.carlycookresearch.wordpress.com


Administrative details

Preferred start date is before March 2018.


Scholarship details:
The PhD stipend is fully-funded for a period of 3.5 years and is open to both Australian/NZ domestic and international students. The stipend include all course fees plus approximately $26,682 AUD per annum tax-free (~$1,026 per fortnight). Expenses for relocation, research, coursework, and conference attendance are also covered.


Monash and the School of Biological Sciences:
Monash is a member of the Group of Eight, a coalition of top Australian universities recognized for their excellence in teaching and research. The School of Biological Sciences is a dynamic unit with strengths in both ecology, conservation and evolutionary biology and the nexus between these disciplines (www.monash.edu/science/schools/biological-sciences/postgrad). The University is located in Melbourne, one of the most liveable cities in the world and a cultural and recreational hub.


Application process:
Interested candidates should send their CV and academic transcript, along with a cover letter outlining their research interests and motivation to undertake this project to anne.peters@monash.edu or carly.cook@monash.edu. In order to be eligible, students must have four-year degree with at least 6 months relevant research experience, outstanding grades, and excellent English (for details see: http://www.monash.ed.../how-to-apply).Short-listed candidates will be asked for further information and will be interviewed. Applications will be reviewed as they are received, but all application received by 1 December will be given full consideration. For further details contact Anne or Carly.