PhD Position in Behavioral Ecology (Belgium) ~

1 de agosto de 2013

PhD Position in Behavioral Ecology (Belgium)

PhD on the plasticity of multimodal communication under sexual selection
in a butterfly, Bicyclus anynana

Biodiversity Research Centre -- Earth and Life Institute
Université catholique de Louvain (UCL)

Project title
Plasticity of multimodal communication under sexual selection in a
butterfly, Bicyclus anynana

Available position
A full time four-year PhD position is available at the Biodiversity
Research Centre, Earth and Life Institute, University of Louvain-la-Neuve
(UCL) in Belgium (

Description of the project
Individuals often show large phenotypic variation in sexual traits
(signals and preferences), which affect their reproductive
success. Phenotypic variation may be due to their genotype,
to the environment(s) in which their phenotype is present, and to
genotype-by-environment interactions (GEIs). The impact of GEIs on sexual
selection has only recently drawn the attention of researchers. The
project aims at assessing the role of GEIs on the variation observed in
sexual traits and tests whether such variation has an adaptive value
in mate choice. An integrative approach will allow investigating: 1)
multiple phenotypic (visual, olfactory, gustatory) traits to grasp
the full phenotype of the organism, forming its "lifestyle", and 2)
the adaptive value of phenotypic plasticity in both sexual signals and
preferences in both sexes. More specifically, the project will aim at
identifying the extent of plastic and genetic effects in male-female
interactions due to signaling and preference for signals. Methods will
include behavioral, chemical and statistical analyses to test the extent
with which sexual signals and preference depend on individual quality,
experience and on environmental conditions (e.g. [1,2]). The species
under focus is an African tropical butterfly Bicyclus anynana, in which
mutual mate choice and ornamentation has recently been shown [3]. This
species is a model lab-reared system for studies in phenotypic plasticity,
sexual selection and multimodal sexual communication [4]. Several sexually
selected signals have recently been identified, namely male sex pheromones
in our laboratory [5-7] and the UV-reflectance of male and female forewing
eyespot centres [3,5]. We expect the results to contribute significantly
to our understanding of the role phenotypic plasticity in sexual traits
and other life history traits may play population or species adaption
to reproduce in their environment.

The successful applicant will have the opportunity to develop various
theoretical and technical skills in an integrative manner while carrying
out the scientific research as detailed in the project description. She/he
will have the opportunity to develop additional questions related to the
main research project. She/he is expected to produce several manuscripts
for publication in international peer-reviewed journals and disseminate
this work at international conferences.

We are looking for a strongly motivated candidate with a MSc degree
in Biology, with advanced courses in Evolutionary and/or Behavioral
Biology and Ecology. Experience in behavioral and/or chemical ecology
and written and oral communication skills in English are a plus,
as is the ability to work efficiently, independently as well as in
collaboration. The grant will be delivered upon successful written
application (submission deadline: September 3rd 2012) and an oral
interview in Brussels (October-November 2012), which can both be done
either in English or French. The selected applicant will be supervised
throughout the process. The degrees obtained abroad (outside Belgium)
or in the Flemish Community will require an equivalence (necessary to
provide documentation of passed examinations for 300 credits including
a research work of at least six months during master with a scientific
report; more information: We fill
review applications immediately and until the position is filled.

Work environment
The PhD student will work in a highly active and integrated academic
environment, in the research team of Prof. C Nieberding, including Dr. MJ
Holveck and other postdocs and PhD students, and will interact with
members of other research teams of the Institute, including Prof. H. Van
Dyck. Our University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer,
and is in a French-speaking region, but the language for meetings and
scientific interactions is English. For background information about
our university, see

Salary ranges between 21.349 to 23.659 euros brutto per year (approx. 1700
euros netto per month) and includes all social benefits such as
health insurance and retirement benefits in the Belgian system. For
practical information concerning salaries, benefits, insurances and
conditions of eligibility please contact Mrs.  N. Wittorski at UCL
(; +32 (0) 10 47 29 22).

Application should be sent to Caroline Nieberding
( and include the following: (1)
a cover letter describing your research interests and qualifications,
(2) a full CV, (3) contact information (email, phone number) of minimum
2 referees; (4) a copy of your diploma and grades obtained during Bsc and
Msc studies. Only complete applications will be considered and should be
sent preferably in one single digital pdf file. Applications will start
being reviewed immediately and until the position is filled. Informal
inquiries are welcome. Please include « PhD application » in the
subject line of the e-mail.

1. Holveck MJ, Geberzahn N, Riebel K (2011) An experimental test of condition-
   dependent male and female mate choice in zebra finches. PLoS one 6.
2. Holveck MJ, Riebel K (2010) Low-quality females prefer low-quality
   males when choosing a mate. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-
   Biological Sciences 277: 153-160.
3. Prudic KL, Jeon C, Cao H, Monteiro A (2011) Developmental plasticity
   in sexual roles of butterfly species drives mutual sexual
   ornamentation. Science 331.
4. Brakefield PM, Beldade P, Zwaan BJ (2009) The African butterfly
   Bicyclus anynana: a model for evolutionary genetics and evolutionary
   developmental biology. In: R. R. Behringer ADJKRE, editor. Emerging
   model organisms: a laboratory manual. NY: Cold Spring Harbor
   Laboratory. pp. 291-329
5. Nieberding CM, de Vos H, Schneider MV, Lassance JM, Estramil N, et
   al. (2008) The male sex pheromone of the butterfly Bicyclus anynana:
   towards an evolutionary analysis. PLoS One 3.
6. Nieberding CM, Fischer K, Saastamoinen M, Allen CE, Wallin EA, et al.
   (2012) Cracking the olfactory code of a butterfly: the scent of
   ageing. Ecology Letters 15: 415-424.
7. Van Bergen E, Brakefield PM, Zwaan B, Nieberding CM (2013) The scent
   of inbreeding: male sex pheromones betray inbred males. Proceedings
   of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 280: 20130102.
8. Costanzo K, Monteiro A (2007) The use of chemical and visual cues in
   female choice in the butterfly Bicyclus anynana. Proceedings of the
   Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 274: 845-851.


Prof. Caroline Nieberding
Evolutionary Ecology and Genetics Group
BDIV Research Centre
Earth and Life Institute
Académie Louvain (UCL)
Carnoy building, office b112
phone: +32 (0)10 47 34 88

Parcel and mail deliveries at the secretary's office :

Earth and Life Institute
Université catholique de Louvain
Secrétaire ELIB
Carnoy (local B193)
Croix du sud 4-5, bte L7.07.04
1348 Louvain-la-Neuve

phone: +32 (0) 10 47 34 98
fax: +32 (0) 10 47 34 90

Caroline Nieberding

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