African wild dogs are highly endangered, and have a complex pack structure with separate male and female dominance hierarchies in which reproduction is typically exclusive to the alpha male and female. Current efforts to maintain genetic diversity involve translocation of live animals in both captivity and the wild; a process that involves the combination of male and female single-sex groups to form a new social pack. Due to their complex social structure, such introductions are difficult; regularly leading to aggression and injuries to the animals.
We are investigating the use of dog appeasing pheromone (DAP) to down-regulate stress & aggression associated with the formation of new packs in captivity. Our initial findings indicate that DAP may reduce baseline stress levels in females and, when applied during regrouping of same-sex individuals, results in a relative reduction in observed levels of aggression. We are also currently determining whether DAP is a useful mitigation strategy during medical interventions on individual animals within existing packs, and have recently completed a series of trials across 5 US Zoos and in situ in Namibia.
We seek a dedicated, self-driven & highly motivated student to undertake a PhD project to isolate & test the effectiveness of several novel African wild dog-specific pheromones during pack formation in both captive & wild populations (Europe & Southern Africa). Research will involve: (i) mass spectrometry/gas chromatography for pheromone isolation; (ii) comprehensive behavioural observations of dominant/ subdominant interactions and aggression in pheromone-treated African wild dogs; & (iii) non-invasive measurement of reproductive & stress hormones as well as immune markers to validate underlying beneficial physiological effects. This work forms part of a broader collaboration with the Research Institute in Semiochemistry & Applied Ethology (France), & the Wild Dog Advisory Group (South Africa).
The prospective candidate will be required to apply for one of JCU’s highly competitive PhD scholarships (extended deadline - http://www.jcu.edu.au/grs/scholarships/index.htm). If successful the awardee should look to commence the project in Jan 2017. Applicants should have a 1st class Honours or MSc Research Degree in a related field, demonstrate Band 2 English language proficiency, and have preferably (co)authored at least one scientific publication. Only high calibre students will be considered.
Interested individuals should email a curriculum vitae (containing a list of publications, awards & referees), as well as an academic transcript of their highest degree to firstname.lastname@example.org ASAP.