Social learning and cultural inheritance in birds, Parus major

The Department of Biology and Max Planck Institute for Ornithology seek one Ph.D. candidate to study the ontogeny of social learning and cultural inheritance in great tits, Parus major. The position will be supervised by Dr. Lucy Aplin, head of the Max Planck Research Group Cognitive and Cultural Ecology, and is funded by the Collective Behaviour Cluster at the University of Konstanz. Starting time is flexible in 2019, and the position is fully funded for 3.5 years.

Background. Traditional views of Darwinian evolution focus on selection acting on genetically underpinned variation as a means of adaptation. However recent research has expanded this picture, revealing that some species (such as great tits, Parus major) can socially learn behaviour via interaction with conspecifics, and transmit these behaviours over generations through a process of cultural inheritance. Such research has further suggested that this social learning is often not unbiased, but rather shaped by social learning strategies. This can have potentially important consequences, shaping the form and distribution of behavioural traits across populations and over time. But are how fixed are these strategies? Do they vary within and between individuals, how do they develop, and how do they affect the vertical transmission of knowledge (cultural inheritance)?

Position details. The research be with a local population of great tits, Parus major. The student will have the opportunity for cross-disciplinary collaboration within the Collective Behaviour Cluster to undertake high resolution tracking, following fine-scale decision making processes in captive birds. In addition, we will follow a local population of breeding birds over three generations, and conduct observations and experiments in the wild. The project will therefore involve a combination of field-work and lab-work; it will include diverse activities such as designing experiments, constructing and deploying equipment, catching and handling wild birds, behavioural observations and analysis of large behavioural datasets.

Qualifications. The successful candidate will preferably have experience handling wild birds, as well as a demonstrated ability to engage in independent research in the field. Quantitative skills are not a prerequisite, but the candidate should have an interest in conducting experiments and handling large datasets. Most importantly, they should have an avid interest in cognitive ecology! Ideally, the candidate should have a Masters degree or equivalent in zoology, ecology, comparative psychology, animal behaviour or related subject. Applicants with a background in other topics and a demonstrable interest in biology will also be considered. The working language of the group is English, and proficiency in English is necessary; no German language skills are required. We are an inclusive and diverse group, and encourage applications from women, people with disabilities, and all under-represented backgrounds. Students from any nationality are welcome to apply.

Location. The lab is based at the world leading Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (MPIO) in Radolfzell, Germany. The student will join the International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) for Organismal Biology. Additionally, they will be integrated in the Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour at the University of Konstanz. The centre is a collaboration between the University of Konstanz and the MPIO that aims to create a global hotspot for the integrated study of collective behaviour across species and organisational scales. It includes members from psychology, physics, economics and computer science as well as biology.

Application Process. Applicants should apply via the IMPRS application system (due 15 January 2019). In their application, they should include a CV, contact details for at least two referees, and a 1-2 page research statement that describes their research interests and background and how these relate to the proposed project. Please direct questions or queries to Lucy Aplin.

Keywords: collective behaviour, social learning, animal culture, birds, cognitive ecology

Main advisor: Lucy Aplin, MPI for Ornithology

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