Graduate Positions in Cognitive and Behavioural Ecology

Funding is available for PhD or MSc students in the Morand-Ferron lab, University Research Chair in Cognitive Ecology.

Research on cognitive processes has historically targeted mechanistic questions via neurosciences and psychology, leaving evolutionary considerations mostly unexamined. As a consequence we still do not understand why cognitive abilities vary so drastically between or within-species, or the consequences this variation has on cultural and biological evolution. The graduate projects will seek to: (i) quantify variation in cognitive abilities, i.e. learning, memory, social information use; (ii) examine sources of variation in cognitive performance, including heritability, the developmental environment, and the ecological and social context of tests; and (iii) examine consequences of this variation on life-history traits and fitness.

Cognition, behaviour and winter survival in wild black-capped chickadees, Poecile atricapillus, along an urbanization gradient:
Chickadees form small social groups during the non-breeding season and stay on a common home range throughout winter. This project will investigate the causes and consequences of sociality during the non-breeding season, and examine links between social information use, sociability, leadership, dominance and overwinter survival in wild chickadees. Moreover the project will quantify variation between flocks along an established series of field sites that extends from urban parks in Ottawa to neighbouring rural areas.

Evolutionary ecology of spatial cognition in crickets Gryllus spp.
Crickets have been suggested to use spatial memory of landmarks around their burrow to navigate their environment. This project aims to investigate spatial cognition in males and females crickets, determine the heritability of related traits, and the effect of various ecological conditions during development via controlled experiments in the lab, with a possibility for accompanying field experiments.

Cognition and personality in a colony of zebra finches Taenopygia guttata
Zebra finches allow examining research questions on the development of cognition and correlated traits, and provide opportunities to conduct long-term experiments on individual and social information use and learning.

To apply: Send a short cover letter, resume, and latest unofficial transcript to

Selected candidates will be guaranteed a paid position of 20 000$CAD per year (4 years for PhD, 2 years for MSc). Canadian applicants with >80% CGPA in their last two years of studies automatically obtain a UO scholarship covering tuition fees for the duration of their studies, and are expected to apply for NSERC and OGS scholarships. International graduate students are eligible to a partial scholarship from UO that covers the difference between international and Canadian fees; applicants from French-speaking countries or institutions pay their tuition fees at the level of Canadian citizens (approx. 8000$/year). Ideal candidates would have research experience in cognitive or behavioural ecology; applicants for a PhD position are expected to also have experience with scientific writing.

Dr Julie Morand-Ferron
Associate Professor and University Research Chair in Cognitive Ecology
Department of Biology, University of Ottawa, Canada