Social Complexity and Communication Systems in Birds

We are seeking a PhD student to study the link between social and vocal complexity in birds. Vocalizations in birds can be socially learned and culturally transmitted, leading to a mosaic of distinct vocal dialects across populations. Theories of the evolution of vocal systems have proposed the “social-complexity” hypothesis, which asserts that the diversity and complexity of communication signals is driven by the complexity of social interactions within groups, at both the proximate (individual, ecological) and ultimate (species, evolutionary) levels. This project will provide an empirical test of the social-complexity hypothesis. First, the student will investigate the interplay between social dynamics, population structure, and vocal call types in a wild parrot. Second, the project will include a comparative analysis across psittaciformes. The position is fully funded for 4 years, and open to students of any nationality.

Position Details:  Research will involve collecting and analyzing demographic, behavioral, and acoustic data from multiple populations of birds, as well as conducting a comparative analysis of the published literature in parrots (order Psittaciformes). Experimental work in captivity or the wild addressing mechanisms of social learning and cultural transmission of vocal communication is also possible.

Research Community: The student will be a member of the International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) for Organismal Biology, a cooperative doctoral program between the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the University of Konstanz. The student will also be integrated with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, in the Department of Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture, where statistical and quantitative training in cultural evolutionary analyses will take place. The student should therefore be prepared to spend significant time in both locations.

Qualifications: Research will involve extensive independent field work, experimental work, bioacoustics analysis and quantitative data analysis. The ideal candidate should have experience in at least one of these areas as well as a strong desire to learn new skills. Demonstrated ability to engage in independent research is expected. Applicants should have a masters degree or equivalent in ecology, animal behavior, zoology, or a related subject. The working language of the group is English, and German language skills are not a requirement.

Location: Radolfzell (Konstanz) and Leipzig, Germany.

Application Process: Applicants should apply via the IMPRS application system (due 15 January 2019). Please include a CV, 1 page statement of your research interests, and contact details for at least two references. Start date will be between June and September of 2019.

Keywords: social complexity, cultural evolution, vocal learning, social systems, parrots, birds

Advisors:  Mary Brooke McElreath1,2 and Lucy Aplin1

 1Max Planck Institute for Ornithology & 2Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

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