mercredi 21 octobre 2015

Two PhD Opportunities at the University of York

1.      Dynamic networks in dominant ants: coping with environmental change

Social insects are highly ecologically successful, with ants among the most dominant groups worldwide. To explain this widespread ecological success, we must understand colony organisation. This is particularly important where colonies are challenged by local habitat management activities. In one striking form of organization, some ant species spread each colony across multiple socially connected nests: polydomy. Polydomy affects colony success because food is transported along trails connecting nests. Previous studies of polydomy focus on static nest networks; in reality, polydomous species must survive unpredictable, changeable environments. This project will use a well-mapped population of the charismatic wood ant, Formica lugubris, to investigate how forest management (e.g. thinning, grazing) affects colony organization, and, by applying dynamic network analysis, will determine how polydomous colonies use their interconnected network of nests to respond to environmental change. This project involves empirical fieldwork and network analysis; there is also scope for including theoretical modelling.

This project is a CASE partnership with The National Trust. This partnership will facilitate direct contact with woodland site managers regarding the ecological implications of woodland management activities.

How to apply
This project is part of the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership in Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment (ACCE) and will be co-supervised by Elva Robinson (Biology, University of York), Kate Parr (Earth, Ocean & Ecological Sciences, Liverpool University) and Dan Franks (Computer Science and Biology, University of York). The project will start Oct 2016 and is competitively funded. UK/EU students only. For more information about the project, ACCE and how to apply see:
Informal inquiries are welcome:

2.      Collective personalities in ant colonies

‘Animal personalities’ occur when individual animals show consistent behavioural patterns, stable through time and across contexts. Such ‘personalities’ have major ecological and evolutionary implications, including for sexual selection, speciation rate and responsiveness to environmental change [1]. Sociality is a key feature of a huge range of animals, including humans. Social groups frequently behave in ways that would not be expected from studying the component individuals in isolation: groups themselves can have consistent, emergent ‘collective personalities’. These group personalities can also have major ecological consequences, including fitness effects [2]. Despite their importance, we know very little about how group personalities emerge from individual behaviour, because studying behaviour across multiple organisational levels is challenging. We are therefore currently unable to predict how social and environmental effects on individual behaviour will influence group dynamics.

This project will use ant colonies as a model system for understanding the contributions of individuals to collective behaviour. It will go beyond simply observing the emergence of group behaviour, to actually changing collective personalities, by manipulating the contributions of individuals. This will be achieved by combining radio-tagged ants with the use of automatic doors to control the access of certain ants to particular tasks or locations [3]. This will allow for the first time the study of the mechanistic underpinnings of collective personality in ant colonies. Manipulation experiments will modify the contributions of individual ants to colony processes, with the aim of making predictable changes to collective personality, and exploring the effects of these changes on colony function and fitness.

How to apply
This project will be co-supervised by Elva Robinson (Biology, University of York) and Jamie Wood (Mathematics and Biology, University of York). The project will start Oct 2016 and is competitively funded. UK/EU students only. For more information about the project and how to apply see:
Informal inquiries are welcome: