mercredi 16 janvier 2013

Student stage in Behavioral Ecology (f/m)

Project title

Plasticity of multimodal communication under sexual selection in a butterfly, Bicyclus anynana Position and peculiarity

A 3- to 5-month student stage (Bachelor or Master) is available at the Biodiversity Research Centre, Earth and Life Institute, University of Louvain-la-Neuve (UCL) in Belgium (, preferentially starting in February-March 2013.

Description of the project

Individuals often show large phenotypic variation in sexual traits (signals and preferences), which affect their reproductive success. Phenotypic variation may be due to their genotype, to the environment(s) in which their phenotype is present, and to genotype-by-environment interactions (GEIs). The impact of GEIs on sexual selection has only recently drawn the attention of researchers. The project aims at assessing the role of GEIs on the variation observed in sexual traits and tests whether such variation has an adaptive value in mate choice. An integrative approach will allow investigating: 1) multiple phenotypic (visual, olfactory, gustatory) traits to grasp the full phenotype of the organism, forming its “lifestyle”, and 2) the adaptive value of phenotypic plasticity in both sexual signals and preferences in both sexes. More specifically, the project will aim at identifying the extent of plastic and genetic effects in male-female interactions due to signaling and preference for signals. Methods will include behavioral, chemical and statistical analyses to test the extent with which sexual signals and preference depend on individual quality, experience and on environmental conditions (e.g. [1,2]). The species under focus is an African tropical butterfly Bicyclus anynana, in which mutual mate choice and ornamentation has recently been shown [3]. This species is a model lab-reared system for studies in phenotypic plasticity, sexual selection and multimodal sexual communication [4]. Several sexually selected signals have recently been identified, namely male sex pheromones [5,6] and the UV-reflectance of male and female forewing eyespot centres [3,7]. We expect the results to contribute significantly to our understanding of the role phenotypic plasticity in sexual traits and other life history traits may play in population or species adaption to reproduce in their environment.


The student will participate to a large project as detailed in the above description. She/he will have the opportunity to work on a specific question (to be defined based on the student’s own interest) and to develop various theoretical and technical skills in an integrative manner.


We are looking for a strongly motivated candidate with advanced courses in Evolutionary and/or Behavioral Biology and Ecology. Experience in behavioral and/or chemical ecology is a plus, as is the ability to work efficiently, independently as well as in collaboration.

Work environment

The student will work in a highly active and integrated academic environment, in the research team of Prof. C. Nieberding, including Dr. MJ Holveck and other postdocs, PhDs and students, and will interact with members of other research teams of the Institute, including Prof. H. Van Dyck. Our University is in a French-speaking region, but the language for meetings and scientific interactions is English. For background information about our university, see


Application should be sent to Caroline Nieberding ( and Marie-Jeanne Holveck ( and include the following: (1) a cover letter describing your research interests and qualifications, (2) a full CV, (3) contact information (email, phone number) of minimum 1 referee. Only complete applications will be considered and should be sent preferably in one single digital pdf file. Applications will start being reviewed immediately and until January 31st 2013 (or until the position is filled). Informal inquiries are welcome.

Please include « Student stage application » in the subject line of the e-mail.


1. Holveck MJ, Geberzahn N, Riebel K (2011) An experimental test of condition-dependent male and female mate choice in zebra finches. Plos one 6.

2. Holveck MJ, Riebel K (2010) Low-quality females prefer low-quality males when choosing a mate. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 277: 153-160.

3. Prudic KL, Jeon C, Cao H, Monteiro A (2011) Developmental plasticity in sexual roles of butterfly species drives mutual sexual ornamentation. Science 331.

4. Brakefield PM, Beldade P, Zwaan BJ (2009) The African butterfly Bicyclus anynana: a model for evolutionary genetics and evolutionary developmental biology. In: R. R. Behringer ADJKRE, editor. Emerging model organisms: a laboratory manual. NY: Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. pp. 291-329

5. Nieberding CM, de Vos H, Schneider MV, Lassance JM, Estramil N, et al. (2008) The male sex pheromone of the butterfly Bicyclus anynana: towards an evolutionary analysis. Plos One 3.

6. Nieberding CM, Fischer K, Saastamoinen M, Allen CE, Wallin EA, et al. (2012) Cracking the olfactory code of a butterfly: the scent of ageing. Ecology Letters 15: 415-424.

7. Costanzo K, Monteiro A (2007) The use of chemical and visual cues in female choice in the butterfly Bicyclus anynana. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 274: 845-851.