January 16, 2017

An interdisciplinary approach to understanding predator modification of prey behaviour

An interdisciplinary approach to understanding predator modification of prey behaviour 400 x 400 px

Predation has a fundamental role in determining the structure, dynamics and functioning of natural ecosystems. Predators don’t just consume prey – they scare them – and hence alter their behaviour. This can have huge knock on consequences for the dynamics of ecosystems, often through modification of trophic cascades.

The ‘ecology of fear’ has attracted lots of attention in recent years and one important area is understanding how spatial and temporal variation in levels of predatory risk affect the foraging decisions of consumers. A framework for assessing these questions is provided by the Risk Allocation Hypothesis.

An animal’s need to fulfil its daily energy requirements, in the context of varying levels of predatory risk, means that decisions to forage (which expose an animal to enhanced predation risk) are not momentary trade-offs, but form part of an overarching foraging strategy. This strategy will be influenced not only by spatial and temporal variation in predation risk but also by the energetic state, previous experience and ontogeny of the prey plus environmental context.

This PhD will take a multi-disciplinary approach to this exciting area by combining behavioural and ecological observations with physiological measurements. The project will use a tractable rocky-intertidal food chain to determine how prey experience and age/size modify preys’ foraging decisions. It will test the hypothesis that modifications in prey decision making with experience/ontogeny are underpinned by differences in energetic status, namely changes in metabolic rate and cellular energy budgets. Metabolic rates are a useful indicator of performance and can be used to estimate overall energetic requirements.

Cellular energy allocation can inform trade-offs in energy budgets that may impact ecologically relevant processes, such as growth and reproduction. The PhD will involve a combination of lab and field experiments under different environmental contexts to assess the generality of behavioural, ecological and metabolic observations.

Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in subjects such as Marine Biology, Ecology, Environmental Science, or Natural Sciences. A desire to conduct interdisciplinary research to address fundamental questions in ecology is required.

For further details please contact Dr Stuart Jenkins