Study opportunity: PhD research at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town

Project: Can sociality buffer the impacts of climate change? 

We invite applications for the above full-time research scholarship at the FitzPatrick Institute, a world-renowned, national Centre of Excellence (CoE) in ornithological research. The successful applicant will be an experienced fieldworker, and will test the relationship between sociality and climate change vulnerability using a highly social bird (the Southern Pied Babbler, Turdoides bicolor) as a model species. They will be supported and supervised by Dr Susie Cunningham (University of Cape Town), Assoc. Prof. Amanda Ridley (University of Western Australia), and Dr Claire Spottiswoode (University of Cape Town and University of Cambridge).

Climate change is increasing the frequency, intensity & duration of heat waves. Temperatures above critical thresholds affect fitness and population persistence of animals by forcing trade-offs between essential behaviours and heat stress mitigation. However, cooperation allows sharing of workloads across individuals (load-lightening) and may reduce the costs of time spent on thermoregulation. By observing a free-ranging, habituated population of Southern Pied Babblers in the Kalahari, this project will test whether cooperation can buffer the negative effects of environmental extremes. In the field, the successful candidate will test whether temperature and social group size affect (1) physiological costs of heat stress; (2) behavioural patterns; (3) within-year breeding success; and (4) long-term survival and reproductive success. The candidate will have the opportunity to contribute to research design.

 This project is an interdisciplinary collaboration between two ongoing research programmes: the Hot Birds Project (focusing on thermal biology and climate change impacts) and the Pied Babbler Project (focusing on sociality). For information on these projects please visit the following websites: and

Candidates should have a strong MSc or BSc Honours degree in an appropriate discipline; students with an honours degree would have to first register for an MSc but could upgrade to a PhD provided progress is satisfactory in the first year of study. A background in statistical analysis and experience in behavioural ecology or ecophysiology would be advantageous. However, it is most critical that the successful candidate be passionate, motivated and devoted to fieldwork.

 The value of the scholarship is R120 000 per year for up to three years for PhD. If beginning as an MSc, the first year will be R90 000. Renewal each year will be contingent on satisfactory academic progress. Adequate project running costs are available.

Click here to download the .pdf of this PhD study opportunity. 

 To apply, please send a CV (including your academic record & names and contact details of two referees) and a short motivation letter to Hilary Buchanan at (subject ‘your surname’ pied babbler PhD). Informal enquires can be directed to Dr Susie Cunningham or Prof. Amanda Ridley

 For more information on the FitzPatrick Institute visit

 Closing date: 10 January 2016 (possible interviews to be held in January)

UCT is committed to the pursuit of excellence, diversity and redress. Students granted a scholarship to study at UCT are required to comply with the UCT approved policies, procedures and practices for the postgraduate sector. UCT reserves the right to disqualify ineligible, incomplete and/or inappropriate applications, and reserves the right to change the conditions of award or to make no award at all.