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Social networking in the Columbian ground squirrel : a bio-logging approach linking animal behavior to individual health and ageing

Dernière mise à jour : vendredi 22 juin 2018, par Nicolas Busser

2-year Postdoctoral Fellow position in Animal Physiology and Behavioural Ecology with Dr Vincent A Viblanc and Dr F Stephen Dobson at the University of Strasbourg, Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien, France.

Ageing is likely influenced by social biology in group-living organisms. However, the mechanisms of interaction between social stressors and stress-related health issues are poorly studied, and the impact of social stress on organismal fitness is virtually unknown. Our research will integrate the links among social stressors, physiological stress indicators, and individual fitness in a colony of ground squirrels observed since 1992. Columbian ground squirrels (Urocitellus columbianus) are semi-social sciurid rodents that inhabit sub-alpine meadows of the Rocky Mountains of Canada and the northern US. They have a matrilineal social system where related individuals overlap both spatially (kin clusters) and over generations. Our current research indicates that individual fitness benefits are acquired by co-breeding with neighbours that are close kin. However the consequences of social heterogeneity on individual physiology and health are unknown.

JPEGIn this project we will explore the effects that the social environment has on adult phenotype, using a bio-logging approach to measure individual social contacts both above and below ground. We will use an innovative approach, via large scale deployment of >80 novel contact collars coupled with 3D-accelerometers and magnetometers to establish continuous networks of social interactions throughout the breeding season, and connect individual social attributes to their underlying physiology (glucocorticoid stress hormones, oxidative stress markers, immunity markers and telomere dynamics). More information on the MamTag project can be found here.

Research will be based at the Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien (Strasbourg, France, website), and fieldwork will be carried out in the Sheep River Provincial Park (Alberta, Canada, website). The applicant should have a keen interest in working with free-living mammals in outdoor conditions.

The post-doctoral fellow will be responsible for implementing the first stage of the MamTag project. This will include (1) standardization and pre-analysing accelerometer, magnetometer and contact data collected in 2018 (Dec 2018-Mar 2019), (2) deploying loggers and collecting data (including physiological samples) in the field (Apr-Jul 2019), (3) analysing logger signals and developing programming routines to establish social contact networks and animal behaviour (Aug-Mar 2020). The post-doctoral fellow will also assist with the supervision of a PhD student associated with the project, whose research will focus on the social determinants of fitness. The second year of the project will be used to analyse physiological samples at the IPHC and the Centre for the Neurobiology of Stress, University of Toronto, and publish the results.

For this post-doctoral project we are seeking someone who works well in a team environment ; who is mobile, creative, highly motivated ; and who has a keen interest in integrating animal physiology, behavioural and evolutionary ecology. Our ideal candidate will have a proven record of working on complex signal analyses (accelerometer, compass and environmental data) and developing specific toolboxes for signal analyses (strong expertise in signal processing with Matlab/R/Python). Previous experience working in the field (long hours outdoors, animal handling) and in the lab (ELISA, RIA) is preferred but not essential ; the willingness to learn such techniques is, however, required. The candidate should have excellent written and oral communication skills in English and an excellent publication record.

The successful applicant will be mainly based in the Department of Ecology, Physiology & Ethology (DEPE) at the University of Strasbourg, France, under the joint supervision of Dr Vincent A Viblanc and Dr F Stephen Dobson. The DEPE is a lively Department where the post-doctoral fellow will benefit from interaction with a thriving community of postgraduate students, postdocs and researchers in animal physiology, marine biology and behavioral ecology. Furthermore, the applicant will integrate with an international team, and will thus benefit from the interaction and support of research partners, including Rudy Boonstra (University of Toronto), Dominique Filippi (Sextant Technology, New Zealand), and François Criscuolo (IPHC CNRS). The applicant will participate in University of Strasbourg Institute for Advanced Studies (website) actions such as seminars and related activities.

Strasbourg is one of Europe’s most attractive cities, being 1h45 by train from Paris, 1h by plane from Amsterdam and Scandinavia, and at the border with Germany. It has a rich historical and architectural heritage, with Strasbourg’s historical city centre being listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Its diversity, pedestrian city centre and 500 km of cycling paths make it a very pleasant city to explore. Vibrant and affordable, Strasbourg is a true student city providing a great learning and living environment (Check out the New York Time’s video : 36 Hours in Strasbourg).

Applications must include 1) a cover letter outlining why you want to work on this project, 2) a detailed curriculum vitae including complete list of publications, 3) the contact details of two academic referees, 4) a 1‐page summary of your PhD research and relevant experience in the proposed topic, and 5) two of your key publications or submitted manuscripts. Please send the above as a single pdf file both to vincent.viblanc and

Review of applications will start on September 1st 2018 until a suitable candidate is identified. The starting date is December 1st 2018. The postdoc project is fully funded for 2 years by the University of Strasbourg Institute for Advanced Studies. Annual net salary around 27,700 €.

For more information, feel free to contact Vincent Viblanc () or F Stephen Dobson ().


University of Strasbourg Institute for Advanced Studies (here).

Suggested reading

  • Viblanc VA*, Schull Q*, Roth JD, Rabdeau J, Saraux C, Uhlrich P, Criscuolo F, Dobson FS. 2018. Maternal oxidative stress and reproduction : testing the constraint, cost and shielding hypotheses in a wild mammal. Functional Ecology, 32 : 722-735.
  • Viblanc VA*, Pasquaretta C*, Sueur C, Boonstra R & Dobson FS. 2016. Aggression in ground squirrels : relationships with age, kinship, energy allocation and fitness. Behavioral Ecology, 27 : 1716-1725.
  • Rubach K, Wu M, Abebe A, Dobson FS, Murie JO & Viblanc VA. 2016. Testing the reproductive and somatic trade-off in female Columbian ground squirrels. Ecology & Evolution, 21 : 7586-7595.
  • Viblanc VA, Saraux C, Murie JO & Dobson FS. 2016. Kin effects on energy allocation in group-living ground squirrels. Journal of Animal Ecology, 85 : 1361-1369.
  • Dobson FS, Viblanc VA, Coline CM & Murie JO. 2012. Kin selection in Columbian ground squirrels : direct and indirect individual fitness. Molecular Ecology 21 : 524-531
  • Viblanc VA, Arnaud C, Dobson FS & Murie JO. 2010. Kin selection in Columbian ground squirrels (Urocitellus columbianus) : littermate kin provide individual fitness benefits. Proceedings of the Royal Society B : Biological Sciences 277 : 989-994