Does climate influence social behaviour?

How does climate influence social dynamics at a micro and macro scale?

Degree type


Closing date

27 March 2023



Citizenship requirement


About the research project

Climatic change is a major factor shaping natural populations. The scope of these effects has spawned significant research interest concerned with identifying the direct ways in which climate change will impact natural systems. However, there are also a myriad of indirect ways that shifts in climate will impact biological systems. One major unexplored category of effects is on social behaviour. By mediating basic biological processes changes in climate should substantially alter how individuals interact with one another. This has the potential to alter social interactions and behaviour and, through this, the nature of social organisation itself. Despite this, the effect of climate change on social dynamics is poorly understood.

The PhD project will use a combination of observational, molecular, and comparative techniques to address this. It will target a group of Australian lizards for whom i) social interactions are mediated by climate at the individual level and ii) these interactions influence selection on social behaviours that influence social complexity at the population and species level. Specifically, the project will leverage a unique data set data set on one species of Egernia that has tracked social dynamics for over 18 years and integrate the with climatic data collected at both a micro and macro scales to explore how variation in climate mediates social dynamics within and between years. It will then combine this with similar work on species across the Egernia group, allowing us to link climate mediate micro-evolutionary processes at the individual level with macro-evolutionary patterns of social diversification.

The successful candidate will be involved in the collection of data related to the maintenance and expansion of the long-term field study, the construction and analysis of a large pedigree dataset, the extraction of climatic data as well as targeted experimental approaches. The candidate will develop skills in critical thinking, project management, fieldwork, data analysis, writing and communication.

Primary Supervisor

Meet AProf Geoff While


Applicants will be considered for a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship or Tasmania Graduate Research Scholarship (TGRS) which, if successful, provides:

  • a living allowance stipend of $31,500 per annum (2023 rate, indexed annually) for 3.5 years
  • a relocation allowance of up to $2,000
  • a tuition fees offset covering the cost of tuition fees for up to four years (domestic applicants only)

If successful, international applicants will receive a University of Tasmania Fees Offset for up to four years.

As part of the application process you may indicate if you do not wish to be considered for scholarship funding.


Applicants should review the Higher Degree by Research minimum entry requirements.

Additional eligibility criteria specific to this project/scholarship:

  • Applicants must be able to undertake the project on-campus

Selection Criteria

The project is competitively assessed and awarded.  Selection is based on academic merit and suitability to the project as determined by the College.

Additional essential selection criteria specific to this project:

  • First class honours degree or equivalent in a relevant field with evidence of strong skills in research

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • We are looking for candidates with a deep interest in projects that integrate field and laboratory techniques
  • The ideal candidate will have experience conducting field work, preferably with reptile systems, laboratory skills such as DNA extraction and/or genetic analysis
  • The candidate will have strong analytical skills using r or similar software and a keen interest in developing those skills
  • Successful applicants will demonstrate a strong research background in evolutionary biology, ecology or similar fields through a publication record or a high-quality thesis

Application process

There is a three-step application process:

  1. Select your project, and check you meet the eligibility and selection criteria;
  2. Contact the Primary Supervisor, AProf Geoff While to discuss your suitability and the project's requirements; and
  3. Submit an application by the closing date listed above.
    • Copy and paste the title of the project from this advertisement into your application. If you don’t correctly do this your application may be rejected.
    • As part of your application, you will be required to submit a covering letter, a CV including 2 x referees and your project research proposal.

Following the application closing date applications will be assessed within the College. Applicants should expect to receive notification of the outcome by email by the advertised outcome date.

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