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Trans-generational effects of the social environment on animal personality and cognition
Understanding phenotypic variation, its function and underlying mechanisms is one of the major goals in evolutionary biology. The environment experienced throughout the lifetime can leave epigenetic marks on the genome which may sometimes be transmitted across generations. Such transgenerational epigenetic effects are often mediated by maternal effects, influences of mothers on the offspring phenotype. Maternal effects are thought to represent adaptive responses to the prevailing maternal environment which allows optimal adjustment of offspring development. Maternal effects thus play a crucial role in offspring phenotypic plasticity and variation, however, its adaptive function and the underlying molecular mechanisms are not yet fully understood.
We use wild-derived house mice (Mus musculus) as a model organism to understand how maternal effects shape animal personality, endocrinology and cognitive traits.
To understand how the maternal social environment shapes offspring behaviour & physiology, we combine methods from several biological disciplines including behavioural experiments, endocrinology and molecular epigenetics. We will breed and phenotype house mice across three generations in a full factorial match-mismatch experiment.
Candidates should have a genuine interest in studying animal behaviour and be motivated to combine state-of-the-art laboratory techniques with ecological and ethological questions.