How do female relationships shape the social system of a group-living mammal?


Theory predicts that animals will form social groups when the benefits of living together exceed the costs of competing for limited resources. However, there is much diversity in the form that group living takes, both within and between species, with social units varying from small family groups to very large aggregations of individuals.

Relationships between individuals ultimately shape social systems, varying from close social bonds to loose associations or tolerance of others. In mammals, female relationships are often of particular interest because philopatry provides opportunities for kin selected benefits of cooperation, potentially favouring the evolution of social bonds and prosocial behaviours. Female relationships are therefore fundamental to understanding both how animal social systems evolve and how they may adapt to changing environmental conditions. 


This project will investigate female social relationships in a group living mammal with facultative communal breeding, the house mouse. In particular we will aim to understand the factors influencing variation in the expression of female social preferences and social bonds, and the factors influencing social tolerance among females living together under competitive conditions.

Using an experimental approach, you will develop and test hypotheses under carefully controlled naturalistic environmental conditions, utilising our unique animal facilities for studying animal behaviour. This approach will allow us to investigate how social, environmental and phenotypic factors influence variation in the social relationships of female house mice.

Novelty and timeliness

The importance of female relationships in promoting fitness benefits has recently been highlighted by studies of social vertebrates in natural populations, combined with significant interest in the role of oxytocin (a hormone and neurotransmitter) in mediating social bonds. Our proposed experimental approach of testing general principles of social bond formation and factors influencing social tolerance under naturalistic conditions is novel and allows for a rigorous approach for developing and testing new hypotheses. Combined with the application of a range of analytical techniques for assaying hormonal responses and behaviour, this promises significant new insights for understanding diversity and flexibility of animal social systems in response to environmental change.

Training and research environment

This project offers training in a broad range of areas, including evolutionary theory underlying the evolution of social behaviour, the design and implementation of rigorous controlled behavioural assays, statistical analysis, molecular semiochemistry, and analytical techniques for assaying hormonal responses. The student will join a highly active research environment within the Mammalian Behaviour & Evolution Group at the University of Liverpool’s Leahurst Campus, with outstanding facilities for behavioural research ( 


Notes and how to apply are available here:

All applicants to ACCE must complete the ACCE personal statement proforma. This is instead of a normal personal/supporting statement/cover letter. The proforma is designed to standardise this part of the application to minimise the difference between those who are given support and those who are not.

The ACCE DTP is committed to recruiting extraordinary future scientists regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation or career pathway to date. We understand that commitment and excellence can be shown in many ways and have built our recruitment process to reflect this. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds, particularly those underrepresented in science, who have curiosity, creativity and a drive to learn new skills.

Informal enquiries may be made to 


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Funded studentship

NERC ACCE DTP in Ecology and Evolution, programme starts October 2023.
UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:
• Stipend (2022/23 UKRI rate £17,668)
• Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2022/23 rate £4,596)
• Research support and training grant (RTSG)
Note - UKRI funding only covers UK (Home) fees (£4,596 at 2022/23 rate). A limited number of international fee bursaries will be awarded on a competitive basis. However, if selected International and EU fee rate candidates may need to cover the remaining amount of tuition fees by securing additional funding. International fees for 2022/23 entry were £25,950 (full time) per annum.