PhD grant Individual variation in feeding behavior and mechanics in songbirds

Updated: about 1 month ago
Job Type: FullTime
Deadline: 23 Nov 2020

Department: Department of Biology
Regime: Full-time

The Faculty of Science is seeking to fill a full-time (100%) vacancy in the Department of Biology for a doctoral student in the area of animal behavior, functional morphology and biomechanics

PhD grant Individual variation in feeding behavior and mechanics in songbirds


Beak function is at the crux of one of the best known examples of evolution by natural selection in vertebrates: the radiation of Darwin’s finches. However, the function of a beak not only depends on its shape, since a sophisticated biological machinery is required to allow birds to move their beak during feeding. How birds manage to quickly transport, position, crack and swallow seeds yet remains to be discovered. In addition, strong trade-offs likely exist between the different functions of the beak, and different forces of selection may act, as beaks are also used for, amongst others, communication and bird song.

This PhD project is part of an emerging project on beak mechanics in songbirds, and specifically addresses the following questions: (1) what 3-D movement patterns of the upper and lower beak (i.e. amplitudes, speeds, accelerations) do we observe, and what techniques are employed during seed handling? (2) what are the characteristics of successful feeding events as opposed to failed attempts? (3) how does size and shape of the seed affect beak kinematics and techniques? and ultimately, (4) what are the sources of inter-individual variation in our study population (Canaries Serinus canaria), taking into account age, experience, sex, genetic effects, and seed preference (foraging specialization)?

Labs involved: This project is led by the laboratory of Functional Morphology (FUNMORPH; ) in collaboration with the Behavioral Ecology and Eco-Physiology group (BECO; ). At the laboratory for Functional Morphology we investigate how organisms function and evolve. Examples of functions under study include: locomotion, feeding, fighting, communication, and thermoregulation. Many of our projects take a mechanistic approach: we try to understand how organismal systems work, i.e. precisely how body parts (primarily of the movement and feeding apparatus) and processes interact. The Behavioral Ecology and Eco-Physiology group studies the causes and consequences of individual variation in behavioral traits, taking all four major aspects of animal behaviour into account: causation, development, function and evolution.

Job description

  • You prepare a doctoral thesis in the field of animal behavior, functional morphology and biomechanics with a focus on interindividual variability in feeding kinematics in songbirds.
  • You will perform experimental research in the laboratory using multi-view high-speed videography, followed by computer analysis of 3-D kinematics, and biostatistical analyses.
  • You contribute to teaching and research in the Functional Morphology (FUNMORPH) and Behavioral Ecology and Eco-Physiology (BECO) groups.

Profile and requirements

  • You hold a master degree in Biology, Biomedicine, or Bio-Engineering. Masters in other scientific disciplines with a strong affinity for this topic are also eligible.
  • You have strong affinity for research on birds, behavior, functional morphology and biomechanics.
  • The focus in your teaching corresponds to the educational vision  of the university.
  • Your academic qualities comply with the requirements stipulated in the university’s policy .
  • You are quality-oriented, conscientious, creative and cooperative.
  • You have a basic knowledge of biostatistics, and are motivated to learn advanced methods.
  • Holding a certificate of laboratory animal scientist (FELASA cat. B or C equivalent) is a plus.
  • Having a basic knowledge of programming (e.g. MATLAB, Visual Basic for Applications) is a plus as well.

What we offer

  • A fascinating and versatile research project in a dynamic research group;
  • We offer a doctoral scholarship for a period of one year. This contract is renewable after a positive evaluation for an additional 3 years;
  • The effective start date will be determined in consultation with the selected candidate.
  • Your monthly scholarship amount is calculated according to the scholarship amounts  for doctoral scholarship holders on the pay scales for contract research staff (Dutch: Bijzonder Academisch Personeel, BAP).
  • Additional training and education possibilities;
  • Regular participation in international conferences.
  • Find out more about working at the University of Antwerp here .

Want to apply?

  • You can apply for this vacancy through the University of Antwerp’s online job application platform up to and including 23 November 2020 (by midnight Brussels time). Click on the 'Apply' button, complete the online application form and be sure to include the following attachments: Define briefly (max. 500 words) your motivation and relevant knowledge
  • The selection committee will review all of the applications as soon as possible after the application deadline. As soon as a decision has been made, we will inform you about the next steps in the selection procedure.
  • If you have any questions about the online application form, please check the frequently asked questions  or send an email to . If you have any questions about the job itself, please contact Prof. Sam Van Wassenbergh (03 265 19 88) ( ).

The University of Antwerp received the European Commission’s HR Excellence in Research Award  for its HR policy. We are a sustainable, family-friendly organisation which invests in its employees’ growth. We encourage diversity  and attach great importance to an inclusive working environment and equal opportunities, regardless of gender identity, disability, race, ethnicity, religion or belief, sexual orientation or age. We encourage people from diverse backgrounds and with diverse characteristics to apply.

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