PhD Studentship: Mathematical modelling of sleep behaviour as an indicator of avian welfare

University of Bristol - School of Veterinary Science and University of Bath's Institute for Mathematical Innovation

Salary/stipend Four year studentship at standard BBSRC stipend rate (currently £14,296/annum for entry in Oct 2016)

The project: The importance of a good night’s sleep is universally acknowledged to underpin good health and to promote effective mental functioning in human beings. Sleep follows a strong circadian rhythm and is controlled by internal clock-like systems and external cues. However, defining what is meant by ‘good’ sleep is not straightforward. Some properties of sleep have been captured in mathematical models applied to humans and to other mammals, but there has been no work to describe sleep quality in birds. Like mammals, birds can sleep with both brain hemispheres simultaneously, but unlike mammals, birds can also sleep with just half of their brain at a time, allowing the other half of the brain to remain active and alert!

The first aim of this project will be to use mathematical models to describe sleep patterns in birds. This will require use of statistics, probability and differential equations. The project will study chickens because this work also has commercial relevance. Over 65 billion chickens are reared worldwide each year and the welfare of these birds concerns many people. The second aim of the project will assess the extent to which common management procedures, such as lighting patterns or different methods of brooding, affect sleep quality in chickens, using the definitions of sleep quality derived from the initial research. The third aim will be to examine how sleep quality relates to a wide range of non-invasive indicators of chicken welfare. It is hoped that the results of this project will be used to improve animal welfare and the sustainability of the poultry industry.

How to apply: Applications should be made through the SWBio DTP website:

Candidate requirements:  Applicants must meet the SWBio DTP eligibility requirements (a first or upper second-class UK honours degree, or equivalent qualifications/experience). Due to the mathematical content of this project, it is desirable that the applicant should have a degree with a strong mathematical component (e.g. maths, statistics, bioinformatics, physics, or engineering). An interest in animal welfare will be an advantage.

Funding: For funding and eligibility information, please see the BBSRC SWBio DTP website: 

Contacts:  Informal enquires about the mathematics involved to Dr Lorna Wilson ( Questions about birds to Prof Christine Nicol (

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South West England