PhD on Why do animals play?

Play is a distinct feature of juvenile behaviour in many social and solitary mammals, birds and reptiles. Yet we still have limited understanding about why it is that juveniles predominantly engage in play, and what the ultimate benefits of playing are.

The overarching objective of this PhD project is to test a number of key hypotheses on the function of play. Specifically, using free ranging fallow deer fawns as a model the student will test a number of hypotheses: for example, proposed functions of play such as motor training for predator avoidance, competition with rivals, self-handicapping to learn how to deal with loss of control (such as unexpected disturbance), development of social bonds with conspecifics outside of play, and the causes and consequences of decline in play frequency with age.

The study site is located at Phoenix Park, Dublin (Ireland), where a free-ranging herd of approximately 600 individually identifiable European fallow deer reside. Fawns are captured and ear-tagged with individually numbered tags each year in June. The student will assist with the tagging and contribute to the long-term data collection on body size, body condition and behavioural response of the fawn during the tagging and handling process. Unique to this project, the student will record fawn play and other behaviours from the time the fawn enters the herd and over their first year of life.

Interested candidates are strongly encouraged to contact the lead supervisor Dr Domhnall Jennings ( to discuss the project in more detail.

Candidates must meet UK residency and citizenship criteria in order to be considered eligible.

Salary: Will be in competition for studentships.

Closing date: 12/02/2021

Further information can be found here.