PhD studentship: further info

**Applications now closed**

PhD studentship: Laterality and parental care in fish

Supervisor: Dr Lesley Morrell

Co-supervisors: Dr Isabella Capellini, Dr James Gilbert

School of Environmental Sciences (Biology), University of Hull

Application deadline: 28 February 2017

Start date: 25 September 2017

Further information about the PhD

This PhD forms part of a research cluster of projects on the evolution of parental care, funded by the University of Hull. The successful student will become an active member of the research cluster, together with the supervisors, a postdoctoral researcher, and another PhD student. For more information on the other projects within the cluster, see here (postdoc – coming soon) and here (PhD). The successful student will also join the wider Ecology and Environment research group within with School of Environmental Sciences, and Lesley Morrell’s lab group, currently consisting of three PhD students.

The project

Long thought to be unique to humans, lateralisation (or handedness) is now recognised as widespread in vertebrates. Animals show lateralisation in a wide range of organs and behaviours, and it is hypothesised that cerebral lateralisation can enhance cognitive abilities, particularly through the ability to attend to multiple tasks at one time (multitasking). For fish, this might be the ability to simultaneously forage and remain vigilant for predators, for example. In this project, we will investigate the potential link between lateralisation, parental care and other ecological factors in fish. More specifically, the project seeks to address the following questions:

1) Within and across species, are individuals that provide care more likely to be lateralised than individuals that do not?

Fish have a wide range of parental care strategies. If caring requires an increased ability to multitask, we might predict, for example, that the caring sex should be more strongly lateralised than the non-caring sex. To answer this question, we will use a range of approaches, including experimental work on small fish (we have guppies, cichlids and sticklebacks in our aquaria), literature-based searches to identify the extent to which laterality has been documented across different species of fish, and comparative approaches to assess how parental care might influence the extent and direction of laterality in fish.

2) How does laterality link to the ability to multitask in caring and non-caring situations?

If parental care is linked to laterality, we might further predict that during periods of care, lateralisation is more pronounced than during non-caring periods, or that caring individuals show greater lateralisation that those that do not care. To answer this question, we can explore laterality within and outside the breeding season, or in individuals caring for broods versus those that are not, in appropriate species of fish.

3) How do environmental conditions shape laterality, and how does this link to the ability to multitask?

Lateralisation is known to be both genetically and environmentally determined, and varies between individuals of the same species and within the same population. To answer this question, we can rear fish under differing environmental conditions and explore both laterality and the ability to multitask across individuals from different environments. Here there is an opportunity to link laterality to other behaviours, such as mate choice, anti-predator and social behaviour, and to explore both the costs and benefits of lateralisation.

Your skills and experience

You should have at least a 2.1 undergraduate degree in Biology, Ecology or another relevant subject, together with relevant research experience. A 1st class degree of Masters level qualification would be desirable. You should have skills and experience in experimental research work with animals, preferably in the area of behavioural ecology and/or with fish. The project will involve spending lots of time designing, piloting and carrying out experimental trials in the University’s aquarium facilities, and you should be comfortable doing this, and explain how your experience makes you ideal for this position in your application. Experience with the data analysis software R is desirable, but training can be provided.

How to apply

If you have not already done so, you should contact Lesley Morrell in advance of application, enclosing a CV and a brief statement of why the project interests you, together with any further questions you might have about the project.

To formally apply, you must complete the official application form via the University’s Graduate School, by following the instructions to create an account in MyAdmin. Please ensure you attach a copy of your CV and statements outlining how your skills and experience make you an ideal candidate for the position, and how the position will enhance your personal and career goals. You do not need to provide a research proposal although you may do so if you wish.

Online application is preferred, although if you are unable to apply online, a paper version of the application form is available.


This project is funded by the University of Hull. The studentship will cover tuition fees at the UK/EU rate and provide a maintenance stipend (initially £14,121) for three years.