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PhD Studentship: How does the Keratinous Beak of Birds affect their Functional Performance?

University of Hull

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Kingston upon Hull
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: From £18,622 per annum (22/23 rate)
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 30th November 2023
Closes: 5th January 2024

Supervisors: Dr Jen Bright, Dr Philip Morris, Dr Peter Watson, Dr Stephan Lautenschlager

Enquiries: eei@hull.ac.uk

Project description:

Bird beaks are a composite structure where a bony core is surrounded by a keratinous sheath, the rhamphotheca. It is the rhamphotheca that comes into direct contact with the birds’ environment, be that during feeding, preening, nest building, or any of the other numerous behaviours that are carried out using the beak; however, most morphological study that has been carried out on bird beaks has been conducted on the bony core only. The rhamphotheca may extend greatly beyond the tip of the bony core, dramatically altering both the length and curvature of the beak overall.

Moreover, we know that the covariation in shape between these two tissues differs between bird families: the prominent hooked beaks of raptors may have little bone extending into the beak tip, whereas flatter-beaked birds like kingfishers have a rhamphotheca that closely matches the shape of the underlying bone. Other birds may have tooth-like projections along the lateral edges of the keratin, or have large, hollow casques. Excluding these shape variations may have significant implications for how the functional morphology of the beak has been interpreted.

This project will use CT scans to reconstruct the bone and rhamphotheca of a number of bird beaks.  With a better understanding of how the hard and soft tissues of the beak evolve together, we will be able to gain a greater appreciation for the biodiversity present in this structure, and in the multiple reptilian taxa in which it has evolved through time. This project is part of a larger multidisciplinary study investigating functional performance and its evolution in the feeding mechanics of bird beaks and skulls. The student will work with a team spanning Biology and Engineering, and will have access to the resources of both, including a high-performance computer cluster, materials testing facilities, and a micro-CT scanner. The student will receive training in the digital reconstruction of anatomy from CT and diceCT scans, and how to use these reconstructions in downstream finite element modelling.

This project will provide students with a full PhD studentship. This consists of:

  • a personal stipend (tax-free allowance that you don’t have to pay back) at Research Council UK (UKRI) rates for 3.5 years
  • university fees
  • generous support for research costs, fieldwork, training and conference travel.

Eligibility:

  • Minimum 2:1 Bachelors’ degree in a field linked to the PhD project. Note that we have recruited successful PhD candidates that changed fields completely. Quite often your skills are more important than specific knowledge that you have.
  • You can apply straight after a Bachelors’ degree, but you will need to show how you are competitive with those with a Masters:
  • Draw on skills you have developed in situations other than your undergraduate project e.g. student work experience, programming etc.

Apply now, by clicking the 'Apply' button, above.

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