Communication and collective movement in coati groups

We are seeking a PhD student to join an exciting new project on coati vocal communication and collective movement at the University of Konstanz. The student will carry out research combining behavioral field work, emerging animal tracking technologies, and quantitative analysis, and will join an international research team. The position is fully funded for 3.5 years, and open to students of any nationality.

Background. Recent studies of collective behavior in animal groups have shown that coordinated group movement can emerge if individuals obey surprisingly simple behavioral rules. However, many species have evolved sophisticated communication systems known to play a role in the coordination of movement. Because animals can actively vary when, how often, and what types of signals they produce, this introduces the possibility for individuals to flexibly, dynamically, and even strategically shape their signaling behavior to alter their interactions with others. Understanding the role such signals play in shaping movement decisions, and conversely how movement dynamics affect signal production, is key to understanding the mechanisms and evolution of collective movement across a wide range of systems. Additionally, for animals that live in stable social groups, long-term social relationships may also influence both signaling and movement decisions, with potential consequences for the dynamics and outcomes of collective decisions.

Project Details. The student will focus on understanding the interplay between vocal communication and movement coordination in coati groups. Research will involve collecting combined GPS and acoustic data from entire groups of coatis, allowing us to monitor the movements and vocalizations of all individuals within groups at a fine scale. The student will then combine these data with computational approaches to investigate the mechanisms of group coordination, and may additionally design and conduct field experiments. The project will involve field work at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute field station on Barro Colorado Island, Panama, as well as quantitative analysis of movement and acoustic data using various computational approaches. Start date is flexible and will be between June and October of 2019.

Supervision and Research Community. The student will be co-supervised at the University of Konstanz by Prof. Meg Crofoot and Dr. Ariana Strandburg-Peshkin, and will also collaborate closely with external advisor Dr. Ben Hirsch (James Cook University, Australia). The student will be integrated within the research groups of both Dr. Strandburg-Peshkin and Prof. Crofoot, and will join the International Max Planck Research School for Organismal Biology (IMPRS), a cooperative doctoral program between the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the University of Konstanz. The University of Konstanz and the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology together form a thriving research community representing a global hotspot for collective behavior and animal movement research, most notably through the recently-funded Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour.

Qualifications. The project will involve both behavioral biology field work and quantitative data analysis using programming. The ideal candidate should have experience in at least one of these areas as well as a positive attitude and enthusiasm for learning the other. Demonstrated ability to engage in independent research is desirable. A collaborative spirit and the ability to work as part of a team are essential. Applicants should  have a masters degree in ecology, zoology, or a related subject; alternatively, applicants with a demonstrated interest in biology and an academic background in another quantitative field such as physics, mathematics, computer science, or engineering are also encouraged to apply. The working language of the group is English, and German language skills are not a requirement. Spanish language skills will be favorably considered, but are not required.

Location. Konstanz is a vibrant small city located on the border between Germany and Switzerland, on the shores of the Bodensee (Lake Constance). It is easy to get out into the beautiful German and Swiss countryside and the Alps, as well as to neighboring Zurich and Munich.

Application Process. Applicants should apply via the IMPRS application system (due 15 January 2019), and are also required to include an own CV and a research statement (see below for details).

Research Statement Instructions. Applicants should include a 1-2 page research statement that addresses the following points:

  1. Describe your main research interests, how they developed, and how they relate to the proposed research project.
  2. Describe 1-2 hypotheses you would like to test (or analyses you would like to perform) in the context of the described project, and indicate how you would address them using movement and acoustic tracking data and/or field experiments.
  3. Give an example of a time in your past education or research experience in which you faced a problem or a challenge, and describe how you addressed it.

Keywords. Collective behaviour, vocal communication, movement coordination, GPS, computational analysis, group coordination

Supervisors. Prof. Meg Crofoot and Dr. Ariana Strandburg-Peshkin, University of Konstanz

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