Wales, United Kingdom
Date Posted
11 Sep 2017

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PhD Project
IBERS, Aberystwyth University

Determining potential vs. realised predictors of plasticity and consistency in behaviour.

Wales, United Kingdom
11 Sep 2017

NOTE: this position listing has expired and may no longer be relevant!

Position Description

Project title: Determining potential vs. realised predictors of plasticity and consistency in behaviour.

Lead supervisor: Sarah Dalesman (IBERS, Aberystwyth University;; Co-supervisor: Mark Briffa (University of Plymouth;

Project description: There is growing interest in the question of why animals should show consistent differences in behaviour across individuals, either within traits (animal personality) or across traits (behavioural syndromes). This has now been demonstrated across diverse taxa and appears to be a fundamental aspect of variation in behaviour. Its ecological and evolutionary importance is rapidly becoming evident and a growing number of studies have linked behavioural consistency to life-history. The proposed project will aim to address a major gap in our understanding of behavioural consistency, by asking how ontogenetic plasticity at different stages of life (embryo to adult) impacts on contextual plasticity (responses to the immediate environment) and behavioural consistency. We are looking for a talented and motivated scientist to take on this challenge.
The project proposes to focus the role of predation threat at different stages throughout development and adulthood. The central hypothesis is that consistent differences in behaviour among adults will be influenced by the interaction between their genes and early-life experiences. By measuring metabolic demand through different life stages and under different treatment regimens the project will determine whether ‘pace of life syndrome’ (currently a popular but largely untested hypothesis) is a major determinate of behavioural consistency. Measuring growth, survival and reproductive success will also enable the student to assess life-history costs and benefits of consistency and plasticity. The pond snail, Lymnaea stagnalis, provides an ideal model system to unravel the mechanisms linking memory, ontogeny and behavioural consistency. Laboratory populations can be readily established, allowing the establishment of different inbred strains for determining the influence of genotype. It is the first species in which consistency in memory formation has been demonstrated across traits and life stages in wild populations, and memory formation linked to predation threat has been shown across all life stages from embryos and juveniles to adults. The project will also allow for scope to test the outcome of early life experience in other molluscs, including economically important species.
This PhD studentship provides an opportunity to gain world-class expertise in animal behaviour, developmental biology and physiology. Dalesman (lead supervisor) has established expertise in measuring plasticity (memory) across all life stages, and is developing techniques in measuring metabolic demand during embryonic development. Briffa (co-supervisor) has extensive experience measuring animal personality and linking this with metabolic demand in adult invertebrates. IBERS has excellent temperature controlled aquarium facilities available for carrying out experimental work and animal maintenance, and specialised equipment for measuring metabolic demand and recording embryonic development and behaviour. You will also have the opportunity to spend time training at the University of Plymouth with Briffa. Through the training provided you will develop a wide range of skills applicable to behavioural research. You will be expected to present your findings at major international conferences and receive training in making your research accessible through public engagement.

How to Apply

The fully funded 3-year PhD scholarship pays UK/EU university tuition fees (currently £4,052pa) and a stipend of £14,057 per year. Applicants should hold, or expect to obtain, a minimum of a first or good upper-second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject. Contact the lead supervisor Dr Sarah Dalesman ( to discuss the project, or for general queries IBERS Postgraduate Co-ordinator Michelle Allen ( For information on IBERS see and for how to apply see - please enter the lead supervisor name under “Project title applied for”. Deadline: 30th September 2015

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