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Exploring the impact and adaptation to social and environmental stress in the king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus)

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    Université de Strasbourg
    Biological sciences
    Environmental science
    First Stage Researcher (R1)
    Recognised Researcher (R2)
    17/06/2018 23:00 - Europe/Brussels
    France › Strasbourg

Individual quality is described through variations in survival and reproduction but there is no clear consensus at whether individuals can be more successful than others whatever the context. Based on the singular biology of king penguins that reproduce in an aggressive social context and extreme environmental conditions, our project aimed understanding the proximate determinants of quality in relation to individual performances, and on the fitness consequences of variation in quality. This PhD project realized under the cotutelle of JP Robin (IPHC) and P Bize (Aberdeen University, UK), is a part of the program “ECONERGIE” supported by the French Polar Institute. The experimental part of the project will be realized in Possession Island (Crozet Archipelago) in the French Scientific Base “A. Faure”. This implies that the candidate makes one or two field studies (lasting for 2 to 4 months) in this island.

Scientific Interest: Individual quality is described by among-individual differences in traits associated with survival and reproduction. Yet, there is no clear consensus at which traits we should be looking at when trying to assess individual quality. Because most traits characterizing an individual are polygenic, describing individual quality requires functional and evolutionary investigations of multiple traits over various life-history stages. In addition, the existence of correlational selection on multiple traits has also been proposed as an important mechanism for maintaining the honesty of social signals, suggesting the evolution of a few ornaments providing highly integrated information on the quality of their bearers. The question is then which traits across life-history context are determinants of individual quality, how are these traits correlated, and how do they relate to individual competitiveness and quality advertisement in social contexts?

Animal Model: Because of the specificity of its biological cycle the king penguin, a colonial seabird, appears to be an ideal model to tackle such questions. While on-land, these long-lived seabirds have to cope with high-energy constraints. The various stages of their life cycle are associated with extended fasting periods. Breeding penguins also have to secure a territory within a competitive social environment that can affect its energy budget, they may be subject to inclement weather condition. Finally, king penguins alternate fasting periods on-land with periods of intensive foraging at sea far away of their breeding grounds. Thus, the phenotypic traits of those colonial seabirds are expected to be under strong influence of heterogeneity in both abiotical and biotical environments.

Questions addressed: Over the past few years, extending beyond physiological mechanisms per se, we have worked towards an integrative view of evolutionary adaptations to those different constraints. Working on birds in a natural colonial setting, we have suggested that variability in physiological and behavioral parameters are associated with variability in environmental and social factors, and ultimately, variability in fitness. To have a strong overview of the relation between individual quality and the traits related with reproduction and survival, there still is a need to deepen our understanding of (a) the proximate physiological bases of, and variability in, individual quality; (b) the inter-relationship of individual performances across life-history contexts, (c) how information on quality is advertised to conspecifics; and (d) the ultimate fitness consequences of such variability. Together with the study of trait heritability and genes x environment interactions on individual phenotypes, studying the proximate determinants of quality together with their ultimate consequences should provide an evolutionary view of the strategies used by king penguins to deal with their unique environment and life cycle.

Work location(s)
1 position(s) available at
Institut pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien (IPHC)
67037 Strasbourg Cedex
23 rue Loess - BP 28

EURAXESS offer ID: 303818