Mechanisms underlying heterogeneity in social learning between individuals and groups

1 Ph.D/Post-Doctoral Position

Research objectives: Social learning has been studied mainly at the level of behavioural outcome. More specifically, it has been postulated that 1) social transmission and expression of behaviour can approximate the actual process of social learning, and 2) the rules and biases that individuals use during social learning are relatively fixed within and between individuals of a single species. However, there is little evidence for these propositions, with research to date limited by existing technologies and methodological approaches. Here, we propose to use high-resolution behavioural tracking in captivity combined with observation and experiments in the wild to address two research questions. 1) When and how are individuals biased in their social learning, do individuals express multiple social learning rules, and if so, do these vary adaptively within and between individuals according to context and state (plasticity in social learning)? 2) How does individual decision-making, and variation between individuals in decision-making, affect behaviour expressed at the group-level?

The Department of Biology has an opening for one Ph.D. or Post-Doctoral position. This position will involve cross-disciplinary collaboration with departments at the University of Konstanz and the Max Planck Institute. In this project, the student will study inter- and intra-individual flexibility in social learning rules in bird flocks, using high resolution tracking to follow decision making processes underlying the acquisition and use of social information in wild great tits (Parus major). In doing so, we aim to shed light on the evolution and ontogeny of social learning strategies and their interaction with the cultural transmission and inheritance of behaviour.

The successful candidate will ideally have experience handling and working with wild birds, as well as a demonstrated ability to engage in independent research in the lab and field. Quantitative skills are not a prerequisite, but the candidate should have an interest in conducting experiments and handling large datasets, as well as an avid interest in cognitive ecology. The candidates should have a Masters degree or equivalent in animal behaviour, evolutionary ecology, comparative psychology, zoology or related subject. The position is fully funded for 3 years, and is open for applicants from any nationality. However, the working language of the group is English, and good English skills are necessary. (Advisor: Dr Lucy Aplin in the Max Planck Research Group Cognitive and Cultural Ecology)