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Study opportunity: MSc/PhD research at the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town

Taking the heat: how do parent birds mitigate costs of breeding at high temperatures?

We invite applications for the above full-time research scholarship at the FitzPatrick Institute, a world-renowned, national Centre of Excellence (CoE) in ornithological research with a strong emphasis on postgraduate studies. Preference will be given to applications from previously disadvantaged South African citizens. The successful applicant will focus on understanding whether & how Fork-tailed Drongos Dicrurus adsimilis balance trade-offs between parental care and thermoregulation in order to maintain reproductive output in the face of harsh thermal conditions in the Kalahari Desert. The candidate will be supported and supervised by Dr Susie Cunningham and Dr Tom Flower, and will work under the aegis of the Hot Birds Research Project and the Fork-tailed Drongo Project.

Fork-tailed Drongos are highly intelligent pair-breeding passerines that nest during the hottest time of year in the Kalahari Desert, when air temperatures regularly approach or exceed 40ºC. Preliminary data suggest adult drongos struggle to balance thermoregulatory, foraging and parental demands at high air temperatures; yet nestlings maintain growth rates even on hot days, suggesting parents may somehow buffer them from these costs. Major lines of investigation for this study include: how adults alter provisioning behaviour with temperature; whether they can compensate for reduced provisioning during hot periods; how they regulate their own and offspring’s body temperature; whether costs to offspring manifest in ways other than reduced mass gain. The project sits at the intersection of the fields of behavioural ecology and ecophysiology, drawing on behavioural ecology theory (including central place foraging theory and the economics of balancing energy and water budgets); and principles of thermal biology. The drongo population at the study site (Kuruman River Reserve) is fully habituated, facilitating an experimental approach. The project is offered as an MSc with scope to be upgraded to a PhD depending on the interests and progress of the successful candidate. Under exceptional circumstances, we will also consider applications from candidates already holding an MSc who would like to undertake the project as a PhD.

Candidates should have an appropriate BSc Honours/MSc degree with excellent records. Field experience involving data collection is essential as the candidate will be required to often organize and conduct field work independently. As drongos nest high in camelthorn trees it is important to have a good head for heights. Experience in statistical data analysis and writing skills would be favoured to ensure an efficient start. The successful candidate will form part of an established and supportive research team.

The value of the scholarship is R95 000/R125 000 per year for up to two years for MSc/for up to three years for PhD. Renewal each year will be contingent on satisfactory academic progress. Adequate project running costs are available.

To apply, please send a CV (including your academic record & names and contact details of two referees) and a short motivation letter to Hilary Buchanan at (subject ‘your surname’ [project name] MSc/PhD). Informal enquires can be directed to Dr Susie Cunningham: or Dr Tom Flower

For more information on the FitzPatrick Institute visit For more information on the Hot Birds Research Project visit and

Closing date: 15 April 2018 (possible interviews to be held in late April)

UCT is committed to the pursuit of excellence, diversity and redress. Students granted a scholarship to study at UCT are required to comply with the UCT approved policies, procedures and practises for the postgraduate sector. UCT reserves the right to disqualify ineligible, incomplete and/or inappropriate applications, and reserves the right to change the conditions of award or to make no awards at all.