PhD in Behavioural and Physiological Stress Reactivity in Baboons

Primates are exposed to a range of social and ecological stressors and employ complex coping strategies in response. Further, individuals differ in how they respond to these stressors which can impact health and fitness outcomes. Investigating the different coping mechanisms employed is a crucial step in understanding the evolution of the vertebrate stress response and its relationship with sociality and health. This project will focus on wild chacma baboons (Papio ursinus), which can experience a wide range of ecological stressors, including a high risk of predation, feeding competition, and exposure to drought. Males also face significant social stressors such as the challenges associated with maintaining dominance status, gaining access to fertile females, and subsequently defending those females against neighbouring troop-males, which can lead to intense levels of competition between males. For females, stressors can include harassment from males, their reproductive state and their position in the dominance hierarchy and associated aggression. The overall objective of the current Ph.D. project will be to (i) compare the impact that socio-ecological stressors have on the stress response of female and male baboons, and (ii) assess the degree to which individual differences in coping strategy mediate stress reactivity. This will advance our understanding of the links between sociality and the stress response and enhance our knowledge of both animal and human health. Furthermore, there is a pressing need to understanding how species can cope and survive under climatic extremes as the effects of global climate change become more apparent.

To achieve these objectives the successful candidate will spend 12-months collecting behavioural and endocrinological data (i.e., non-invasive hormone sampling) from a population of wild chacma baboons in South Africa. Analysis of these data will be centred on the use of the Reactive Scope Model to examine the possible health and fitness benefits associated with inter-individual differences in coping strategies (Young et al., 2014; 2017; 2019). The Ph.D. will be supervised by Dr. Chris Young, Dr. Richard McFarland, and Dr. Stefano Kuburu. The fieldwork data collection will take place on the Swebeswebe Wildlife Estate, Limpopo Province, South Africa (an NTU research and teaching facility directed by Richard McFarland).

Salary: Fully funded for UK / EU / International students - 3 years of stipend at UKRI rates

Closing date: 12/01/2024

Further information can be found here.