Project proposal details

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Project title
Non-reproductive sexual behaviour: how does environment shape the behavioural phenotype of rhesus macaques?
Contact name
Vincent Savolainen
Project based at
Silwood Park (Imperial)
Project description
The prevalence and diversity of non-reproductive sexual behaviour, especially same-sex sexual behaviour, has been frequently reported in primates (and indeed across the animal kingdom), but how do different environments affect such behaviours, and how far can we apply these predictors within or across species and their environments? These are questions of increasing interest to behavioural ecologists, and a great number of candidate effects have already been proposed (for example family structure, population density and operational sex-ratios). Specifically, this project will examine evidence for environmental effects on non-reproductive sexual behaviour in rhesus macaques. The first part of the project will encourage behavioural observations of captive or free-ranging primates (subject to COVID-19 Restrictions – see below) and data collation of candidate environmental effects. The second part of the project will use this data along with: (1) our pre-existing; and (2) publicly available datasets to assess the significance of different hypotheses concerning the consistency of environmental effects on sexual behaviour in macaques. The student will also be encouraged to consider the question more broadly across other genera, and an emphasis of the environmental contrasts between captive and wild populations may also be explored.

Data science: R programming & GLMM approaches
Fieldwork: Primate observation protocols & sampling methods
NB depending on COVID-19 restrictions, fieldwork opportunities may vary between the UK and Caribbean (or in extreme cases pure bioinformatics projects will be made available).

Scharf, I. & Martin, O.Y. (2013) Same-sex sexual behavior in insects and arachnids: Prevalence, causes, and consequences. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. 67 (11), 1719–1730. doi:10.1007/s00265-013-1610-x.

Clive, J., Flintham, E. & Savolainen, V. (2020) Understanding same-sex sexual behaviour requires thorough testing rather than reinvention of theory. Nature Ecology & Evolution. 4, 784-785. doi:10.1038/s41559-020-1189-3.

Sommer, V. & Vasey, P. (2006) Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

The project is cosujervised by Jackson Clive
Date uploaded

Project proposal limitations

The project proposer has indicated that there are some limitations to the availability of this project. It may only be available at certain times of year or suit a specific project length. It may also need skills taught to students on a particular course or courses.

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Project length limitations
5 months, 9 months