Available PhD projects


Individual traits – Modulated responses – Effects on group social structure

PhD position in Behavioural Ecology, Animal Sciences
At the University of Adelaide, Australia

Fully funded scholarship available.
Flexible start between mid-2020 and early 2021.
Email stephan.leu[at]adelaide.edu.au for initial enquiries and to discuss project ideas.
Applications should be emailed by 18th of May.

Animal social behaviour is fundamentally driven by the distribution of resources and risks in space and time. However, individual characteristics modulate the perception and hence response to these environmental factors. How individual characteristics, in interaction with environmental factors, affect the group social and spatial structure, and drive group processes is not well understood.

Research group
We are seeking one or more PhD students to join an exciting new research group that investigates the drivers of Animal Social Behaviour and its evolutionary consequences. We work on fundamental questions about the emergence and maintenance of spatial and social structure in animal populations and the resulting health and fitness consequences. The current focus of the research group is on social mammals, including domesticated species such as sheep, as they are particularly amenable to experimental projects.

Research project
We are seeking highly motivated PhD candidate(s), who are enthusiastic about fundamental science; and who are interested in the spatial and social behaviour of sheep. The project will investigate how individual characteristics/traits in interaction with the physical and social environment modulate the social network structure and how that affects population processes such as information flow and group movement. The scope of the project is purposely broad, and will allow the candidate(s) to develop and contribute their own research questions. These questions could focus on social behaviour, movement ecology or on aspects related to wellbeing and health or productivity; or a mixture of both. The project will use tools from social network theory and spatial ecology to characterise individual and group behaviour. The project is supported by already existing funds.

Sheep have a long history of domestication, and are an important production animal. However, in the harsh environment of the rangelands in outback Australia, paddocks are large, sheep are free ranging and rarely handled or managed. In these environments, although domesticated, sheep face similar challenges as wild animals including finding patchily distributed food, finding water, shelter and mates. We have established a great study system and can continuously track all individuals of large groups of sheep using GPS collars.

Adelaide is the capital of South Australia and an exciting city. It lies in-between the ocean and the Adelaide Hills, and invites to explore the beaches and countryside. The School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences of the University of Adelaide is situated on the beautiful Roseworthy campus close to the famous Barossa Valley. The School provides a vibrant research environment, and offers excellent support to postgraduate students.

Application process
One fully paid scholarship is available for the successful candidate. In addition, Adelaide University has scholarship opportunities available to competitive candidates.

Domestic candidates: scholarship round 18 May to 16 June.
International candidates: scholarship round 1 May to 10 July 2020.

The 2020 stipend value for full-time domestic and international students is $28,092 p.a. tax-exempt for 3 years (indexed annually). The University also provides some funding for each PhD research project. Additional funding is available through excellent external funding opportunities that students can apply for. Applicants should have a First-class Honours degree or research MSc in a relevant discipline. Students, in particular international students, who have already published a paper, will be more competitive. Good analytical skills, or the willingness to develop them, is important.

Applications should include 1) a brief statement of your research experience and your reasons for applying (max. 500 words), 2) your CV including contact details of two academic referees, 3) your nationality (for scholarship eligibility purposes). Applications should be emailed as a single PDF file to stephan.leu[at]adelaide.edu.au until 18th of May.

Main supervisor
Stephan Leu, School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, The University of Adelaide, Australia.

Animal social behaviour, social networks, GPS, animal tracking, animal movement, individual traits, outback Australia, sheep