Success in an unpredictable habitat: geographic unpredictability and social flexibility (University of the Witwatersrand, South Arica; Succulent Karoo Research Station; CNRS Strasbourg, France)
A 24 month postdoc position is available in the fields of Behavioral Ecology and Eco-Physiology in the Striped Mouse Research Group www.stripedmouse.com of Dr Neville Pillay https://www.wits.ac.za/apes and Dr Carsten Schradin http://www.iphc.cnrs.fr/-Carsten-Schradin-.html. The postdoc will be employed by the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, collect data in the Succulent Karoo Research Station and possibly do laboratory work at the Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien, Département d'Ecologie Physiologie et Ethologie (DEPE), France's largest eco-physiology laboratory.
Research topic. The striped mouse is well known for its social flexibility: it can live either in groups or solitarily. Previous long-term studies over 8 years revealed that the lower the population density, the more striped mice live solitarily. Now we want to test whether social flexibility, which is adaptive due to environmental variation over time, is also an adaptation to geographic variation.
In the Succulent Karoo, striped mice live in relatively small demes of several hundred to a few thousand individuals along dry riverbeds. These demes are isolated from each other via habitat that is uninhabitable for striped mice due to the lack of cover and food. Using genetic markers, we found that striped mice disperse over these unoccupied habitats to find other striped mouse demes several km away, travelling through hostile environments.
However, they are unaware of the prevailing conditions in these different habitats. We know that it is mainly striped mice of below average body mass that disperse over these areas, possibly making the best of a bad job.
The postdoc will study 8 demes of striped mice (Rhabdomys pumilio) within the Goegap Nature Reserve in the Succulent Karoo of South Africa simultaneously during one breeding season, with the help of 8 research assistants. We expect to find significant differences between demes in 1) mean body mass of adult breeders; 2) population density; and 3) social organization, especially the ratio of solitary vs. group-living individuals. The main field site is well established, and the population has been permanently monitored by a team at the research station for over a decade. Striped mice will be trapped, marked, and observed, and blood samples will be collected for hormone analyzes in Strasbourg.
1. Relate geographic variation in population density to social flexibility.
2. Study the adaptive value of male dispersal.
3. Study the endocrine modulators of emigration and social flexibility, with a focus on testosterone and corticosterone levels.
4. Analyze and publish long-term data in the first year
Salary: This position is funded by the University of the Witwatersrand with a very competitive salary of R 198 432/year, which allows for a comfortable standard of living in South Africa. In addition, medical aid is paid by the Universityas well as relocation costs of R10 000.
Starting date: July to November 2017 (variable).
Time schedule: The postdoc will first help with data collection in Goegap to become familiar with all field techniques. Up until April 2018, she/he will analyze and publish existing long-term data. The topic of this long term data will be discussed, but could be understanding the evolutionary, ecological and endocrine reasons for the occurrence of bachelor (all male) groups during some breeding seasons, or a project on socio-genetics, using a 8 years pedigree database. From May 2018 onwards, the different field sites will be prepared and research technicians trained. Main data collection will be from 1st July to 15th October 2018. Afterwards, data will be analyzed and published.
Deadline: For full consideration, your applications must reach us by 1st of February. A second call might be made in March and later, until a suitable candidate is found in 2017.
Applicants should send a cover letter detailing their motivation and expectations of this position, a CV, and contact information of at least two referees combined into a single PDF to Neville Pillay (Neville.Pillay@wits.ac.za) and Carsten Schradin (firstname.lastname@example.org). As an attachment to the application letter, please fill in the following table:
Essential skills Your statement / example proving that you have these skills
Enthusiastic about field work with the willingness to spend 9 months /year in the field.
Good organizational skills and the ability to work independently
Good personal skills and ability to lead a research team
Number of publications (in brackets as first or last author)
Strong background in ecophysiology and/or behavioral ecology.
Strong experimental, analytical and statistical skills