Project properties

Title Songbird behaviour: personality traits and social interactions
Group Behavioural Ecology
Project type thesis
Credits 12-36
Supervisor(s) Marc Naguib and Kees van Oers (NIOO-KNAW)
Examiner(s) Marc Naguib
Contact info or
Begin date 2020/04/01
End date 2022/12/31
Description There exists close collaboration between the BHE chair group and the Netherlands Institute of Ecology in Wageningen (NIOO-KNAW) and this allows students to contribute to ongoing projects with songbirds. Details on the available projects need yet to be determined in discussion with the chair group.

1. Animal personality and pair behaviour.
Animals differ characteristically in behavioural traits and such repeatable and consistent difference are commonly referred to as personality traits. Personality traits have a genetic component and the personality and personality-differences between mates may affect breeding behaviour and reproduction. Observations of breeding pairs of personality type individuals at the NIOO will allow students to determine personality dependent differences in a pair context and to collect observational data allowing to link social behaviour of personality types birds to their breeding performance. Observations are possible only during the pre-breeding and breeding season (March to May). Observational studies related to other questions may be possible also at other times of the year.

2. Animal personality and cognition.
Animals often have to learn cues of their environment for successful foraging, survival and reproduction. Learning is thus subject to strong selection pressure. Environmental cues can also change so that individuals have to be attentive to such changes and re-learn new associations. Learning experiments often require innovative approaches as the tasks have to have a sufficient level of difficulty to reveal individuals differences in performance. This project involves literature surveys of methods used in animal learning and/or development and tests of learning devices ( by the student) using great tits and possibly laying hens as models.

3. Mate choice and social interactions
Animals have to make decisions in various social contexts, such as during mate choice or in competition with same-sex competitors. Females chose males based on certain traits but females also vary substantially in their preferences. Likewise males display their competitive ability to other males. The nature and function of signalling depends on the context as well as on the characteristics of the males involved. Using video recordings of mate choice experiments as well as of interactions between males of personality-typed great tits and of blue tits in a competitive context allows the student to learn about signalling and decision mating as well as to quantify behavioural traits in experimental contexts.

The specifics of a thesis project need to discussed with the chair group, as this will depend on start time and practical considerations.
Used skills