PhD positions on collective escape of bird flocks from raptors (2.0 fte)

Organisation
University of Groningen



Department
Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences

The Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences harbours a kaleidoscope of disciplines and research strengths. Our programmes in research and education range from nanomaterials and biomachinery to astronomy, from mathematics to pharmacy, from neurosciences to computer science, and from molecular and evolutionary biology to marine biology.
Our researchers pursue fundamental key questions while collaborating with partners from industry, the medical world and other realms of society. Frontline research groups explore new fields such as synthetic biologyand sustainable energy use.


Job description
The number of collisions between aircrafts and birds (bird-strikes) has increased in the past decades despite many counter measures. Particularly, multiple collisions during strikes with bird flocks lead to engine failure. Unfortunately, collective behaviour of flocks is difficult to predict and control. As a solution, the proposed project aims to develop a method of using robot-falcons (RoboFalcons), to chase away flocks of birds. Exploiting the synergy between RoboFalcon experiments, computer modelling and observational data, the project aims to deliver a prototype of an easily steerable RoboFalcon and a protocol for how to drive away flocks of birds. The proposed project comprises two PhD projects, one on theory, and one on empirical work. The two PhD’s will closely exchange data and results.
Both PhD’s will be appointed at the Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences (GELIFES - http://www.rug.nl/research/gelifes/), which comprises several strong, internationally recognized research groups in the field of theoretical research, avian and evolutionary biology. The University of Groningen enjoys an international reputation as a dynamic and innovative center of higher education and is ranked among the best research universities in Europe.

Empirical PhD project
Vacancy number 216280
The empirical PhD candidate will focus on the use of the RoboFalcons for understanding predator-flock interactions. The RoboFalcons provide a unique opportunity to study predator-prey interactions in real time through a camera on the back of a RoboFalcon that films the prey. While investigating RoboFalcons during attack of bird flocks at airbases, the empirical- PhD candidate will:

- analyze empirical data of collective escapes related to attacks by RoboFalcons on flocks at airbases in the Netherlands and compare these to those by real falcons on starling flocks in Rome
- experiment with different hunting strategies to keep pest flocks fearful and to avoid scattering of the flock members
- develop a hunting strategy that controls the flock’s escape direction.

Daily supervision will come from Prof. Charlotte K. Hemelrijk and Prof. Simon Verhulst; Dr Claudio Carere (University Paris 13, France) will co-supervise the project.

Theoretical PhD project
Vacancy number 216281
In the theoretical modelling project, the PhD candidate will aim to develop detailed predictions of what causes the empirical patterns of coherent escape under different conditions and in what direction flocks will flee. For this the student will use our computational model, StarDisplay, and may develop new models. The model will be informed by two empirical sources, namely, our experiments with RoboFalcons and the movies of huge starling flocks under attack by Peregrine falcons above Rome. The student will experiment with different escape strategies and attack strategies in the model to improve both understanding of the observations and improve methods of driving flocks away.

Daily supervision will come from Prof. Charlotte Hemelrijk and Dr Hanno Hildenbrandt; Dr Colin Torney (Glasgow, UK) will co-supervise the project.


Requirements
Requirements Empirical PhD project
The successful candidate will have completed a master’s degree (or equivalent) in Biology. The candidate should have a passion for science, be highly motivated to work within the life sciences, be in good command of the English language (oral and written) and possess excellent communication skills (indicated by the ability to write scientific papers and deliver presentations). Successful candidates are expected to demonstrate an active and supportive approach to inter-disciplinary research and collaborate with other group members.

Candidates for the PhD position should have:
- a master in biology
- a strong interest in collective behaviour in animals, like swarming, and in patterns of attack and collective escape; candidates with research experience in these areas are particularly encouraged to apply
- experience with field work, ideally in birds but this is not mandatory.

Requirements Theoretical PhD project
The successful candidate will have previous research experience in theoretical modelling, be in good command of the English language (oral and written) and possess excellent communication skills (indicated by the ability to write scientific papers and deliver presentations). Since studies on self-organization are highly interdisciplinary, successful candidates are expected to demonstrate an active and supportive approach to inter-disciplinary research and collaborate with other group members. Suitable candidates can be either individuals with a background in the computational (life-) sciences, with interest in evolutionary and biological questions, or evolutionary biologists with experience in computational modelling.

Candidates for the PhD position should have:
- MSc in mathematical biology, a MSc in computational science with focus on biology or an MSc in computational physics with specialization in biology, MSc in Artificial Intelligence with a specialization in an area of computational or mathematical biology or a MSc in Biology, with a specialization in an area of computational or mathematical biology
- experience with developing computer simulation code and a sufficient background in mathematics
- a strong interest in collective, swarming behaviour, biomechanics of flight, attack and escape. Candidates with research experience in these areas are particularly encouraged to apply.


Conditions of employment
Contract length: 48 months.
The University of Groningen offers a salary of € 2,191 (salary scale PhD students Dutch Universities) gross per month in the first year, up to a maximum of € 2,801 gross per month in the final year, based on a fulltime position. The position requires residence in Groningen and must result in a PhD thesis within the 4-year contract period. A PhD training programme is part of the agreement and the successful candidate will be enrolled in the Graduate School of Science. The successful candidate will first be offered a temporary position of one year with the option of renewal for another three years. Prolongation of the contract is contingent on sufficient progress in the first year to indicate that a successful completion of the PhD thesis within the next three years is to be expected. How to apply Applications, including a letter of motivation, a curriculum vitae, a list of publications (if any), a list of examination marks, and the contact information of three academic referees, must be submitted online until 31 October / before 1 November 2016 Dutch local time by means of the application form (click on "Apply" below on the advertisement on the university website). The position will remain open until filled. All applications received by 1 November 2016 will be given full consideration. Unsolicited marketing is not appreciated.
Maximum salary: 2808.


Additional information
For additional information, please contact:
Prof. Charlotte Hemelrijk
+31 50 3638084,
c.k.hemelrijk@rug.nl

In your application, please always include the job opening ID 216280-81
Extra informatie kan worden verkregen via een van de volgende links:

Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences
Behavioural & Physiological Ecology
Hemelrijk group

Digital application form