Robin Mehlhausen-Franks

Robin Mehlhausen-Franks

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Robin Mehlhausen-Franks

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Start Year

2021 (Cohort 8)

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PhD Project
PhD Title

Dynamics of flocking in birds: the role of individual recognition and social learning

Research Theme

Biodiversity, Ecology and Conservation

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Many birds travel in flocks comprising many individuals. During flights, decisions have to be made about who leads and follows, who is positioned where in the flock, and which individuals will fly beside each other. These decisions have to be made rapidly during flight, and roles seem to be decided principally by individual personality and navigational experience. This project aims to (a) investigate the roles that individual personality traits and morphological/physiological parameters play in determining flock behaviour and flock positioning, (b) understand how individuals make decisions about whom to follow during flight, (c) determine whether these decisions change with different flock sizes, (d) assess how representative domestic pigeons are of their feral counterparts, and thus how applicable the extensive personality research is to wild individuals, and (e) compare the personalities of birds living in urban environments to that of rural-living birds. This project will use free-flying captive homing pigeons (Columba livia) to address these questions, alongside wild birds in the latter stages of the project. Methodological approaches will involve the use of accelerometer and GPS loggers, identification and tracking of social networks, personality testing, and experimental release flights to investigate the role of experience and personality in flock dynamics.

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