Quantitative comparison of behavioural evolution in social fishes

Abstract We are looking for a candidate to explore how social behaviour evolves over the adaptive radiation in cichlid fishes. Within this group, many species of shell-dwelling Lamprologines live in identical ecological conditions in the same locations in Lake Tanganyika. However, they differ fundamentally in their degree of social and collective behaviour, with some species living solitary life-histories while others are obligately social and cooperative. We wish to explore which behaviours and socio-cognitive abilities may have evolved in the transition among these social states. For example, does social-group living require the evolution of novel behaviours to resolve social conflicts? Does living in complex groups require differing modes of communication than living solitarily? Do social animals possess increased socio-cognitive skill sets, for example the ability to recognise more individuals or remember interactions with them? Overall, what is required for animals to become social?

This project will involve SCUBA diving field work in Lake Tanganyika, Zambia for extended periods, as well as lab-based experiments. In particular, the lab projects will employ virtual reality based approaches to explore social interactions among fishes. Analytically, the project will draw on techniques including machine-learning based animal tracking, behavioural decomposition, and social network analysis. We aim for an objective quantification of social behaviour and an analysis of the functional significance of different behavioural elements by combining behavioural decomposition with Markov chain analyses and network graph theory. Prospective students should have proficiency or be willing to take courses in SCUBA (to PADI Advanced or equivalent), demonstrated ability in peer-reviewed scientific writing, and be proficient in programming (Python, MATLAB).

The successful candidate will be based within the Integrative Field Biology Lab at the Max Planck Institute Department of Collective Behaviour. The position can begin as early as March 2019 and will be funded for three years, with the possibility of extension through external funding sources. Students will be living in Konstanz, Germany and will be part of the International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) for Organismal Biology, with extended periods of field work on the Zambian shores of Lake Tanganyika. This project is part of the University of Konstanz Collective Behaviour Excellence Cluster.

Keywords cichlid fishes, social behaviour, socio-cognitive skills, SCUBA, machine-learning, animal tracking, social network analysis, Lake Tanganyika

Main supervisor Alex Jordan, MPI for Ornithology

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