PhD, MSc and Honours positions available for new project on the evolutionary origins of song learning in birds. This project is a collaboration between Dr. Kristal Cain (kecain.weebly.com) at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and Dr Michelle Hall (michellehall.wordpress.com) at The University of Melbourne in Australia. Both domestic and international applications are encouraged.
Vocal learning in birds is of great interdisciplinary importance and an excellent model for human language. This research relies on a clear understanding of the evolutionary origins of vocal learning, but recent reports have undermined previous assumptions, leading to a hotly contested debate about the evolution of vocal learning. Vocal development in one group of birds, the New Zealand wrens (Acanthisitti), is critical for resolving this debate, but is currently unknown and unstudied. The project will focus on tītipounamu/rifleman and combine in-depth behavioural analyses with new acoustic tools to determine whether vocalisations are learned or innate in these endemic birds. We are also interested in sex differences in vocal acquisition patterns.
This project has a strong field focus and will require substantial time in remote areas. There is flexibility for keen students to guide the direction of the research within the framework of the overall project. The PhD project is anticipated to start mid-2018, with fieldwork commencing in August. Informal inquiries are welcome.
Preferred selection criteria
• Strong previous academic record
• Enthusiasm and interest in the broad concepts and questions motivating the research
• Interest in undertaking field-based avian research, especially acoustic data
• Enjoyment of outdoor fieldwork and confidence in working in remote locations that can experience extreme weather.
• Excellent interpersonal, oral and written communication skills
• Ability to learn/use R (statistical programming language), new packages for analysis (e.g. warbleR), and new software (e.g. Sound Analysis Pro)
• Experience with bird banding/ringing, nest searching, and acoustic techniques is helpful, but not required
To apply, please send an e-mail briefly explaining your research interests and career goals, a CV, a copy of academic transcripts, and contact information for two references to Dr. KE Cain (firstname.lastname@example.org). Informal enquires are also welcome.
Application and funding details:
This project is currently under review and may be offered as a fellowship, supported by the Marsden Fund of The Royal Society of New Zealand (broadly equivalent of US NSF). If not funded students will need to qualify for a U Auckland scholarship. Funded fellowships and scholarships provide a tax-free living stipend and cover student fees for all postgraduates on the project (PhD, MSc, or honours). All positions require the applicant to be eligible for admission at the University of Auckland (see https://www.auckland.ac.nz/en/for/future-postgraduates). Please note the English language proficiency requirements.
We encourage all qualified applicants to apply. Auckland is a diverse and welcoming city and we are committed to increasing diversity in biology. We particularly encourage Maori/Pacifica students to apply; tītipounamu are endemic songbirds and taonga, adding special significance and kaitiakitanga to our proposed research. Our project celebrates their unique status – the phylogeny/whakapapa of this species is critical to our project and for understanding the true origins of vocal learning worldwide.