PhD in the ecology of spatial behaviour ~

2 de diciembre de 2011

PhD in the ecology of spatial behaviour

The Evolutionary Ecology Group at the University of Antwerp
has a vacancy for two PhD-positions in the following project:
The role of exploration and experience in the development of spatial
behaviour: home ranges and dispersal in the Great Tit
Starting date: 1st March 2012
Application deadline: 3rd January 2012
Project description
This project is part of a larger research program on patterns and processes of
mobility and dispersal in animal populations. It is also closely linked to our longterm
studies on ecology and behaviour of great and blue tits in nest-box
populations. The general aim of this project is to test two general hypotheses on
spatial behaviour, using a combination of field data, behavioural experiments and
quantitative genetics:
(a) individuals build up spatial information in the course of their life which they use
in subsequent movement decisions, and this creates carry-over effects between life
stages; (b) individuals differ consistently in their use of spatial information, and
this explains part of the within-population variation in mobility patterns.
Briefly, we will collect detailed information on dispersal, exploration movements and
home-ranges of two full cohorts of great tits throughout their lifetime. This
information will be linked to a number of behavioural tests on exploration behaviour
in laboratory and semi-natural contexts, and to results of experiments manipulating
spatial behaviour. The project has funding for two PhD students who will work
closely together, but for their dissertation each will focus on different parts of the
The first PhD project will focus on individual variation in behaviour. The student’s
main task will be to design and perform experiments in lab and field to study
exploration behaviour in different contexts, and relate this to lifetime spatial
behaviour of the same birds. In addition the student will devise experimental field
procedures aimed at manipulating spatial experience of birds.
The second PhD project will focus on the analysis of lifetime patterns of mobility,
with particular attention to the roles of heritable variation and prior experience. The
statistical analysis will involve both linear and discrete-choice models. This part of
the thesis will be partly co-supervised by Peter Goos of the Statistics Core Facility.
The student will also analyze pedigree data with Animal models to obtain
quantitative genetic estimates of heritable variation in traits associated with spatial
behaviours. Both students will participate in collecting field data on mobility as well
as routine population data.
We are looking for enthusiastic and broad-minded candidates with a Master degree
in Biology, a specialization in behavioural ecology or evolutionary ecology, excellent
study grades, and a particular interest in studying processes that shape animal
movement patterns. For the first position we prefer a student with a particular
interest in experimental approaches for testing behavioural hypotheses, both in the
lab and the field. Affinity with studying birds, in captivity as well as in the field, is
an advantage for both positions. For the second position, preference goes to a
candidate with strong statistical skills and an interest in modelling complex data. An
additional degree in statistics is a particular advantage.
What we have to offer:
- We offer a PhD-scholarship for a maximum of four years (with a net salary of ca
1800 €/month) with the aim of defending a PhD-dissertation at the end of the
fourth year. After one year, the performance of the candidates will be evaluated
to decide whether the scholarship will be continued.
- You will enrol in the Antwerp Doctoral School training program
( allowing you to take part in various courses, training
programs and conferences within and outside the University.
- You will work in a team of several PhD students, postdocs and technical staff
involved in the long-term great and blue tit study
- You will be member of the Evolutionary Ecology group, a dynamic and
internationally-oriented research group that combines field, lab and modelling
approaches to study various questions in ecology and evolutionary research,
mainly focusing on birds and mammals (
- Starting date is 1st March 2012
Applicants should send their complete CV, a one-page statement of research
interests and motivation for this project, and contact information of two referees
who can supply letters of recommendation upon our request.
Please send applications by email before 3rd January 2012 to:
Erik Matthysen (
For more information please contact Erik Matthysen at the same address, or consult
our website.

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