I'm always on the look-out for good PhD students to supervise. You can apply for both funding and places through the Sheffield School of Maths and Stats, where there is information on funding, and/or contact me for informal enquiries. Projects could be in any area of science related to my work, and don't need to be confined to the suggestions on this page. However, here's one idea of the sort of project I might like to supervise...


Fight, Flee, Feed, or Reproduce? Determining when and why animals perform their necessary tasks

    For animals to survive and pass their genes on to the next generation, they must balance their time between a variety of tasks. These are broadly characterised by the "Four F's", but specific tasks differ amongst species, populations, and seasons. For example, a male fox with young cubs may need to split his time between territorial defence (Fight) and finding food for himself and his family (Feed). Prior to having cubs, the requirement for finding food may be lower, allowing more time for seeking a mate (Reproduce) and the inevitable conflict that arises from this (Fight, Flee). As another example, small birds may constantly be needing to either feed or escape predation, eliciting switching behaviours throughout the day.

    The task of this project is to develop generic techniques for detecting such behavioural switches from data on the animals' movement with respect to its landscape. So if an animal is defending its territory, you might expect to find it moving towards, or along, the territory border. When it switches to a foraging mode, it would be likely move towards food-rich areas. Statistical techniques to detect such behavioural switches are likely to require combining Markov chain models with mathematical functions describing selection of resources, in a coherent and efficient way. The student will develop such techniques and use them to investigate strategies used by a variety of different animals, which could range from foxes in UK cities to Amazonian birds to Canadian caribou.

    After this initial stage, the project could go in a variety of directions depending on the student's interests. One direction would be to use the resulting models to determine optimal behavioural-switching strategies. Are the animals behaving optimally as evolutionary theory might suggest? If not, why not? Another would be to investigate extensions and generalisations of the statistical techniques for use in broader contexts, beyond ecology.