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Individual differences in behavioural and physiological stress reactivity in baboons SSS31

  • School: School of Social Sciences
  • Study mode(s): Full-time / Part-time
  • Starting: 2022
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Fully-funded


NTU's Fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme 2022

Project ID: SSS31

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. Our study population of four baboon troops face a novel suite of ecological pressures – namely high predation pressure combined with the occupancy of a single shared sleeping site – which may result in specific responses such as within-group cooperation between males (coalition formation or increased between-group tolerance).

The overall objective of the current PhD project will be to:

  • compare and contrast the impact that socio-ecological stressors have on the stress response of female and male baboons, and
  • 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 centered 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 PhD will be supervised by Dr Chris Young, Dr Richard McFarland and Prof. Bridget Waller. The fieldwork data collection will take place on the Swebeswebe Wildlife Estate, Limpopo Province, South Africa (a research and teaching facility directed by Richard McFarland).

School strategic research priority

This project aligns with the Centre for Behavioural Research Methods and also fit with the Health and Wellbeing research theme.

Entry qualifications

For the eligibility criteria, visit our studentship application page.

How to apply

For guidance and to make an application, please visit our studentship application page. The application deadline is Friday 14 January 2022.

Fees and funding

This is part of NTU's 2022 fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme.

Guidance and support

Download our full applicant guidance notes for more information.

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