PhD Fellowship, France (exam in July, 2019)

 31st Mar 2019

Evolution of social organization and its variability in mammals (Evolution de l’organisation sociale et sa variabilité chez les mammifères)

Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien
Département d'Ecologie Physiologie et Ethologie
University of Strasbourg, France


Currently seeking a highly motivated and top-ranking student for a competitive PhD scholarship opportunity at the University of Strasbourg, France. The competitive exam will take place in early July 2019. The supervisor will help the student in preparing this exam.

This exam consists of a 10-15 minute oral interview of the candidates MSc thesis and planned PhD proposal in front of a panel of 20 professors in various fields of biology (spanning molecular biology, genetics, plant and animal physiology, ecology and evolution) followed by a 15 minute question session.

The successful candidate will be awarded a 3-year PhD fellowship to work at the Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien together with C Schradin on the PhD topic described below.

Pre-requisites asked for by the doctoral school in Strasbourg:

  • Have completed a MSc degree in biology.
  • Be within the top 25% of her/his Master program; for French candidates, no score lower than 14/20

Pre-requisites asked for by the supervisor

  • Strong background in behavioural ecology and / or evolutionary biology
  • Good knowledge and motivation for R programming
  • Good English skills (read, spoken, written)
  • Ability to work hard and independently
  • Hard working and enthusiastic for studying social evolution.

The project

Formerly it was believed that each species has one specific form of social organization. However, it is now widely known that intra-specific variation in social organization (IVSO) is common in many species. In this PhD project we want to investigate which environmental factors and which factors of the life history are associated with the occurrence of IVSO.

In collaboration with Dr. L. Hayes (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, USA), we are building up a dataset on mammalian social organization, identifying in which species intra-specific variation in social organization occurs. We only consider information from primary literature, which often differs dramatically from what is reported in secondary literature (Valomy, et al. 2015). We will include information on the environment and on different life history parameters into the dataset. The statistical supervisor for this project will be Dr. A. Jaeggi (University of Zurich, Switzerland), an expert in phylogenetically controlled analyses of large datasets.

We will test which environmental factors and which life history parameters are associated with the occurrence of IVSO. For example we predict that IVSO occurs more frequently in species that occur in habitats characterized by high inter-annual year variation in rainfall and food abundance. We will also differentiate between the four different mechanisms that can lead to IVSO (genetic variation; developmental plasticity; environmental disrupters; social flexibility; Schradin 2013). For example, we predict that IVSO occurs more often in species that are typically characterised by one dominant breeding pair, indicating that environmental disrupters (death of one dominant breeder) cause the observed variation.

Finally, we will use the new database to approach questions regarding social evolution in mammals that have been previously tested with simplified databases where each species has only one form of social organisation. This includes the ancestral form of social organisation in mammals, the evolution of group living, the evolution of monogamy and the evolution of paternal care.

The database for IVSO is partly built up by master students (approx. 60% of the species are done). The PhD student will have to finalise the database and check the existing database. The PhD student will then include available information on environmental and life history data, develop and run statistical models to test for the specific hypotheses, and write publications.

Objectives of the study:

  • Study the influence of environmental unpredictability on IVSO
  • Study the influence of life history parameters on IVSO
  • Which ones of the four mechanisms leading to IVSO (see Schradin 2013) are occurring in nature? Especially, when is IVSO an adaptive strategy, when enforced by extrinsic factors?
  • How does our understanding of social evolution (monogamy, cooperative breeding, paternal care, group versus solitary living) change when IVSO is taken into account?

Key references

Schradin, C., L. D. Hayes, N. Pillay, and C. Bertelsmeier. 2018. The evolution of intraspecific variation in social organization. Ethology doi:10.1111/eth.12752.

Agnani, P., Hayes, L.D. & Schradin, C. 2018. Intra‐specific variation in social organization of Strepsirrhines. American Journal of Primatology 0(0): e22758.

Valomy, M., Hayes, L. D. & Schradin, C. 2015. Social organization in Eulipotyphla: evidence for a social shrew. Biology Letters11, doi:10.1098/rsbl.2015.0825.

Schradin, C. 2013. Intraspecific variation in social organization by genetic variation, developmental plasticity, social flexibility or entirely extrinsic factors. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences368, doi:10.1098/rstb.2012.0346.

Strasbourg is one of Europe’s most attractive cities, being 1h45 by train from Paris, 1h by plane from Amsterdam and Scandinavia, and at the border with Germany. It has a rich historical and architectural heritage, with Strasbourg's historical city centre being listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Its diversity, pedestrian city centre and 500 km of cycling paths make it a very pleasant city to explore. Vibrant and affordable, Strasbourg is a true student city providing a great learning and living environment (Check out the New York Time's video: 36 Hours in Strasbourg).

Applications must include 1) a cover letter outlining why you want to work on this project, 2) a detailed curriculum vitae including complete list of publications, 3) transcript of Masters university diploma including marks. Please send the above as a single pdf file to 

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