Alternative Reproductive Tactics in Birds - How to Overcome a Ruff Handicap PhD Program 2017, Germany


January 15, 2017


Opportunity Cover Image - Alternative Reproductive Tactics in Birds - How to Overcome a Ruff Handicap PhD Program 2017, Germany

About the program

How does behavioural diversity persist over time? The Ruff Philomachus pugnax is a charismatic shorebird with multiple male mating tactics that profoundly differ in display behaviour, aggression and male ornamental plumage. The differences are best visible in males during the breeding season where three morphs can be identified: (i) Independents, large aggressive Ruffs with dark plumage ornaments, who fight other Independents over matings with females; (ii) Satellites, non-aggressive Ruffs with pale plumage ornaments that co-display with Independents and (iii) Faeders, small non-aggressive Ruffs who lack plumage ornaments and actively distract ornamented males from matings whilst stealthily attempting to steal matings with females themselves. Remarkably, these reproductive tactics are fully genetically determined and the three morphs appear to occur in stable frequencies in nature.

How to Apply

You can only apply via our three-tier electronical application process. Please do not send any other type of application by regular mail or email as they will be rejected. The application must be completed in English only. Besides the online application form, we need several documents from you. Documents that are not in English or German need to be translated. You need to upload all the required documents as one single pdf-file. Please give yourself enough time to submit your application and do not wait until the last moment as technical difficulties or other problems might occur. The Max Planck Society and the University of Konstanz are equal opportunity employers.

Registration for the application process

  • You first have to register for the application process (See in the "Further official information" link below this article)
  • You will receive an email with your personal registration code and two links. One link will lead you to our online application form, the other link will lead your referees to the online recommendation form.
  • Provide your referees with your personal registration code and the link to the online recommendation form. Make sure they realize that we can consider your application only if they fill-out the recommendation form and upload their recommendation letter prior our application deadline (January 15). You will receive a confirmation email after each of your referees uploaded her/his recommendation letter.
  • Assemble all required documents, scan them and convert them into one single pdf-file and name it LastName.FirstName.pdf.
  • Carefully fill-out the online application form, upload your pdf and press the start-button. You will receive an email confirming your upload.
  • After we received your complete application and the two recommendation letters in time you will get an email Mid-February telling if you are shortlisted and therefore invited for the Selection Symposium or not (occasionally there will be a scheduled telephone interview before the invitation is sent out).

We recently found that the underlying genetic differences are entirely encapsulated within a chromosomal inversion region on chromosome 11. This region comprises less than 0.5% of the Ruff genome. This inversion variant is homozygous lethal since one breakpoint interrupts the gene CENPN, whose product is required during mitosis. In addition, long time data from aviary breeding suggest that carrying an inversion allele increases juvenile mortality and therefore the inversion provides a genetic handicap. Our detailed knowledge about the genomic differences has made it possible to develop new diagnostic tools to determine morph frequencies in nature that we want to use to advance our understanding about the persistence of this unusual behavioural diversity and illuminate how the genetic handicap is compensated for.


We are seeking a PhD candidate who will take a demographic modeling approach to help us understanding, how the three morphs co-exist in nature. The project will provide opportunities to do fieldwork and sample Ruffs in different parts of Europe, carry out moleculargenetic work (SNP genotyping) and advanced demographic modeling. The student will then integrate already collected data from captivity and the wild with newly collected data and construct a series of state-of-the-art population-matrix models. These models will provide critical morph- and sex-specific parameter estimates, which as such cannot be obtained otherwise. The insights from the modelling will advance our understanding about the maintenance of phenotypic diversity in a textbook example for sexual selection. It will complement other research currently carried out in our group aiming to unravel the proximate mechanisms underlying the three morphs.

Keywords mating behaviour, alternative reproductive tactics, evolutionary stable strategies, evolutionary genetics, supergene, demographic models

Supervisors Clemens Küpper, MPIO Seewiesen, Susanne Schindler, U Bristol 

Required Documents

  • We need certain documents that prove your specifications in your online application form. Documents that are not in English or German need to be completed with a translation.
  • Your academic background is verified by certificates of relevant university examinations (e.g. BSc and MSc degrees), and a detailed record of study / transcript (a list of attended courses and – if applicable – corresponding grades). Please include an explanation of the grading system at your university, since we get applications from all over the world but do not know all the different university grading systems (obviously, the German grading system does not need to be explained).
  • The official teaching language of the IMPRS for Organismal Biology is English. Therefore you need to convince us that your English proficiency is sufficient for immediately starting with your research work. The best and most reliable way is an acceptable result in an internationally recognized test (e.g. TOEFL). Nevertheless, a verifiable higher education in English, or a reasonably long stay in an English speaking country are also convincing. However you wish to prove your English skills, we need it documented by a third party.
  • If you want to add further information relevant for the project and/or show your personal preferences, you are very welcome to upload an individual CV (max. 3 pages, no photograph please).
  • Add further certificates that prove the given information in the application. But please, only provide documents which are important to support your application. Do not overload your application with certificates and documents of minor significance.

For more information click "Further offical information" below.

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Publish Date
November 18, 2016