Understanding the importance of individual heterogeneity in group-living animals

Understanding the importance of individual heterogeneity in group-living animals

Director of Studies: Dr Alexander Wilson

Second Supervisor: Professor Mark Briffa

Third Supervisor:    Dr Benjamin Ciotti

Project description

Groups of animals, whether that be flocks of birds, schools of fish, or swarms of insects, provide some of the most visually dramatic spectacles in the natural world. However, it is only recently that we have learned that such phenomena arise from the emergent properties of actions and interactions between individuals in those groups. Many questions remain as to how animals, with fundamentally different attributes and requirements, balance their needs with those of their group. Bringing together tools and concepts from animal personality, physiology, social network analysis, and collective behaviour, this studentship will explore the role of differences in ‘state’ and experience in shaping individual – and group-level dynamics. The project will use the Trinidadian guppy (Poecilia reticulata) as a model organism, working both with a laboratory population at the University of Plymouth, and wild populations in Trinidad. The successful student will have the opportunity to contribute to the design of experiments and development of the broader research program and will be provided with unique opportunities for collaboration, training, and research both domestically (UK) and internationally.


Applicants should have a minimum of a first class or upper second class bachelor degree. Applications from candidates with a relevant masters qualification will be welcomed. The position would ideally suit candidates with a curiosity about the natural world and a desire/ability to work in the lab and the field in often-wet conditions. Additional desirable attributes include a working knowledge of R and previous experience or interest in (i) social network analysis, (ii) video tracking software and analysis for measuring animal behaviour and (iii) physiological assays.

If you wish to discuss this project further informally, please contact Dr Alexander Wilson. However, application must be made in accordance with the details below.


The studentship will have a three year duration and will cover full-time home/EU tuition fees plus a stipend of £14,777 per annum. The studentship will only fund those applicants who are eligible for home/EU fees with relevant qualifications. Applicants required to cover overseas fees will have to cover the difference between home/EU and overseas tuition fee rates (approximately £10,350 per annum).

General information about applying for a research degree at the University is available at: https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/student-life/your-studies/research-degrees/applicants-and-enquirers.  

You can apply via the online application form which can be found at: https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/study/postgraduate and select ‘Apply’.

Please mark it FAO Miss Aimee McNeillie and clearly state that you are applying for a PhD studentship within the School of Biological and Marine Sciences.

For more information on the admissions process contact Aimee McNeillie.

Closing date for applications: 12 noon, 06 April 2018.

Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview in early May. We regret that we may not be able to respond to all applications. Applicants who have not received an offer of a place by 30 May 2018 should consider their application has been unsuccessful on this occasion.