*International fieldwork internship* - investigating human-commensalism in Passer sparrows

*International fieldwork internship* - investigating human-commensalism in Passer sparrows

Animal Ecology

Contact Person:

Droevendaalsesteeg 10
6708 PB Wageningen

An exciting opportunity has arisen for a motivated and curious Masters student to participate in overseas fieldwork, as part of an international research team. The Rowe Group will be visiting Kazakhstan during the 2023 breeding season to sample human-associated house sparrows (Passer domesticus) and their non-human-associated counterpart, the Bactrianus sparrow (Passer domesticus bactrianus). We will take a Masters student with us who will act as a field assistant and complete their own behavioural study in the field.

Project Background and Objectives:

The house sparrow is an obligate human-commensal species, relying upon human resources for survival. This tight association with humans likely originated during the Neolithic, coinciding with human societal transitions from hunter-gatherer to agricultural-based lifestyles. Putatively, it seems the house sparrow underwent adaptations to thrive in human-associated environments, transitioning to starch-based diets, nesting in building crevices and displaying modified behavioural traits. In contrast, the Bactrianus sparrow is an ecologically distinct Passer domesticus subspecies; it migrates, is less bold than the house sparrow and, crucially, does not associate with humans. This is therefore an interesting comparison for understanding adaptation to a human-commensal niche.

We aim to investigate the evolutionary consequences of human-commensalism for Passer sparrows. A range of measurements and samples will be collected to understand dietary, reproductive, immunological, genomic and behavioural adaptation to a human-commensal niche. Although the project student will ideally focus on behavioural adaptation (for example through measurements of flight initiation distance) there is scope to develop project ideas, according to the student’s individual interests.

Tasks may include, but are not limited to:

  • Mist netting and bird handling
  • Conducting behavioural tests, including measuring flight initiation distance
  • Data recording and note taking
  • Data analysis

Requirements for the role:

Candidates should be enthusiastic about biological research and able to adapt to the early mornings and potentially difficult conditions associated with remote fieldwork. The working language of the group is English so a good level of written and spoken English is essential whilst Dutch language proficiency is not required.