PhD Position: Stress, song and transgenerational epigenetic inheritance

Transgenerational effects of stress on vocal

Ph.D. scholarship available
Deakin University; Centre for Integrative Ecology
Geelong, Vic Australia

A supervisory team of ARC Future Fellow Professor Kate Buchanan, Professor Andy TD Bennett & Dr Ondi Crino are seeking an outstanding, highly motivated PhD candidate to work on the ARC funded research project “Stress, song and transgenerational epigenetic inheritance”. Previous work has demonstrated the fundamental impact of early life stressors on vocal learning in songbirds. The aim of this PhD research is to assess the extent to which such effects occur across generations and test the possible mechanisms for transgenerational effects using Zebra Finches as a model systems.

The PhD student will be in a vibrant and productive research team. They will test the role of early developmental stress for song learning, neural development and behaviour. They will conduct behavioural tests, bioacoustics analyses, neural sectioning and image brain sections for gene expression to assess vocal learning. Opportunities for field work are included.

Start date: from March 2017 onwards
Stipend: AUD$26,000 p.a. (tax exempt) for 3 years
(for non-Australian/NZ citizens waivers to overseas tuition fee are potentially available)

It will build on our recent research, featured in the international leading journal Science, (and reported widely including The ABC Science Show, BBC, Smithsonian, New York Times) which showed transgenerational effects in zebra finches of singing to eggs.

PhD Project content: The student will join a productive ARC-funded team testing the effect of early life stress on vocal learning, neural development and behaviour. The student will have responsibility for carrying out behavioural playback experiments, recording and analysing avian song, collecting neural tissue and imaging the brain for gene expression. They will receive training in all these aspects, and as the research will involve collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany, travel there may be possible. Although the project has clear aims to meet the project objectives, we seek a student who is keen to develop their own interests and so find their own individual niche within the project.

For further description of the research groups see the following sites:

Recent relevant publications by the group include:

  • Mariette M.M. & Buchanan K.L. (2016) Prenatal acoustic communication programs offspring for high posthatching temperatures in a songbird. Science 353: 812-814 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf7049
  • Buchanan, KL, J. Grindstaff and V.V. Pravosudov (2013) Condition-dependence, developmental plasticity and cognition: implications for ecology and evolution. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 28, 290-296.
  • Crino, O.L., K. L Buchanan, L.A Trompf, M. C Mainwaring, S. C Griffith (2016) Stress reactivity, condition, and foraging behavior in zebra finches: effects on boldness, exploration, and sociality. General and Comparative Endocrinology doi 10.1016/j.ygcen.2016.01.014
  • Woodgate, J.L, K.L. Buchanan, A.T.D. Bennett, C.K .Catchpole, R. Brighton & S. Leitner. (2013) Environmental and genetic control of brain and song structure in the zebra finch. Evolution 68, 230- 240.

The Research Environment: The PhD student will be based in the Centre for Integrative Ecology (CIE) at Deakin University’s Geelong campus. This is 50 minutes from the Melbourne CBD and 20 minutes from Bells Beach and the Great Ocean Road. Deakin hosts one of the largest ornithological research groups in the southern hemisphere, and in the recent ARC Research Assessment exercise received the highest possible rating (of 5) in Zoology. Excellent facilities are available including a 300m2 new aviary, modern lab and offices, well equipped 4WDs for fieldwork, excellent statistical support and established sites for fieldwork on zebra finches. The CIE has over 60 postdoctoral researchers and PhD students, many from overseas; we have multiple weekly seminars and paper discussion sessions, and the research group has 6+ postdocs and regular lab group meetings fostering a lively research culture. We strongly encourage PhD students to present at national and international conferences, and Deakin provides over $3000 for international conference attendance for each PhD.

Who should apply? The project would suit a highly motivated and able student with strong interests in avian evolution, ecology, behaviour or neurobiology. Essential requirements include: Masters or first class honours (or equivalent in a relevant field); excellent written communication skills; high levels of enthusiasm, motivation; an ability to work independently and as part of an interdisciplinary team; and a driver’s licence (as field work may be required). After training, the student needs to be able to take on the collection and analyses of neural tissue. Experience in field work with birds and/or bioacoustics or neural analyses is desirable but not essential. Selection will be based on academic merit and prior experience.

Application deadline is 31st January 2017

For further information or to apply contact Professor Kate Buchanan ( To apply, please send a statement of your interest in the project, a detailed CV and contact details for two referees. Previous applicants need not reapply.