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Impact of coral reef fish personalities on species persistence under environmental change

Coral reefs are undergoing substantial change around the world as mass coral bleaching and other disturbance events disrupt ecological communities. Animal behaviour is thought to be a crucial mechanism underlying this disruption, which could shape the potential for species to cope with on-going environmental change, yet our understanding of these links is in its infancy. One particularly interesting aspect of behaviour is personality, whereby individuals display distinct, repeatable suites of behaviours. Certain personalities could provide a selective advantage under environmental change e.g., bold and explorative individuals might have increased potential to exploit novel conditions. This project aims to explore the relationship between personality traits of individual butterflyfishes (Chaetodon spp.), and their influence on population persistence under changing environmental conditions. Butterflyfishes are iconic reef fish that are particularly susceptible to environmental change because they depend directly on corals as food. This project will ask:

  • How variable is personality amongst individuals, within and across reefs?;
  • How does this variation relate to habitat complexity?;
  • Do fish populations on reefs that  have undergone recent mass coral mortality have a higher frequency of bold, explorative individuals?; and
  • How do these differences in personality frequency scale up to impact the potential for species to track changing climate?

You will address these questions using a combination of existing data, novel manipulative field experiments, and cuttingedge modelling techniques. With supervisory and project support at Lancaster University and the University of Nottingham, and collaboration with field scientists in Japan and the Philippines, the project offers unique opportunities for research and training in coral reef science.

Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in subjects such as Ecology, Marine Biology or Natural Sciences. Applicants with Masters degrees, relevant research experience, or publications will be highly competitive. Exposure to statistical analyses and ecological modelling desirable.

For further details please contact Dr Sally A. Keith (