PhD position using mountain gorillas as a study system to examine the evolution of flexible dispersal patterns

19 January 2023 Study

Topic: The predictors and consequences of dispersal in a flexible social system

The PhD student will use long-term data from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, collected on mountain gorillas in Rwanda to quantify gorillas’ large-scale society. To do this they will use data on inter-group encounters, inter-group communication, kinship, movement patterns and group compositions across more than 20 years. They may also employ additional field methods e.g. acoustic monitoring, to further understand these inter-group relationships. They will then examine how this wider society influences a) females’ decisions to disperse between groups and b) the process of integration into a new group, using social network analysis and fecal glucocorticoid measures. They will then fit this into a broader framework examining the costs and benefits of dispersal, whether individuals can maximise their fitness by making optimal dispersal decisions, and the physiological mechanisms that underpin these decisions (see description of wider project below).

This position provides an opportunity to work with one of the largest and most detailed datasets on the behaviour of a wild ape. Through working closely with experts in both ape and human social behaviour, and by combining long-term data with intensively sampled physiological data they will be well positioned to investigate research questions at the intersection of biological anthropology, psychology, animal behaviour and conservation. The ideal candidate should have a background in one or more of these areas and enthusiasm for developing expertise in the others. The PhD student will receive training in Social Network Analysis, GIS analysis, fecal hormone extraction, fecal hormone assays and scientific writing. They will also have opportunities to visit, work with and learn from collaborators in the USA (in Dr Stacy Rosenbaum’s Lab at University of Michigan) and in Rwanda (at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund). They will work closely with Dr Robin Morrison on their project but be part of a wider team within Prof. Andrea Migliano’s Human Evolutionary Ecology group, including an incoming cohort of 5 PhD students on Prof. Migliano’s COLLABORO ERC project.

Supervisors: Dr Robin Morrison and Prof. Andrea Migliano

Location: Human Evolutionary Ecology Group, Department of Anthropology, University of Zurich, Switzerland

Timescale: 4-year PhD beginning around September 2023

Funding: 4-year scholarship starting at CHF 47,040 with annual increase (~CHF 1,500)

    CHF 5,000 for conference attendance, CHF 8,000 for fieldwork/collaboration costs

Eligibility: Applicants from all countries can apply. A masters’ degree in a scientific field and English proficiency at CEFR C1 or higher are required. Due to the timeframe of the wider project and its funding, the position must be full time.

Candidate profile: 

  • Good quantitative skills and the ability to handle large datasets (e.g. in R, python etc.) or basic knowledge of quantitative methods and R and the capacity and enthusiasm to develop them further.
  • Interest in social evolution and animal behaviour and an enthusiasm for hypothesis-driven research using data from long-term studies of wild animals.
  • Good scientific writing skills and proficiency in English (an official language at the University of Zurich).
  • Teamwork and collaborative skills – you will be working with an international team of researchers based across Switzerland, Rwanda and the United States.
  • Degree in Biology, Biological Anthropology, Zoology, Psychology, Natural Sciences or any scientific related field.
  • Master’s degree in a scientific discipline.

Any one of these would be a bonus (but is not a requirement – please don’t be put off applying if you do not have experience in any of these):

  • Field skills, particularly experience studying animal behaviour in the field.
  • Lab skills, particularly in running hormone assays.
  • Knowledge of bioacoustics, particularly experience in acoustic monitoring of wild animals.
  • Experience working with long-term behavioural datasets from a wild social animal.

Applications should be submitted to Robin Morrison at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and include:

  • CV 
  • Cover letter detailing your motivation for applying to the position, and how you fit the candidate profile (max 800 words)
  • Names and contact details for two referees (e.g. masters supervisor). They will only be contacted at the shortlisting stage.

Please feel free to reach out beforehand if you are unsure about whether to apply, have any questions or would like further information on the project.

Submission Deadline January 20th 2023

For more information, go to:


We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. More info.

By using you agree to our use of cookies.