Context. The Emirates Center for Wildlife Propagation (ECWP) in Morocco is a research and conservation project promoting the restoration of the houbara bustard, as this species inhabiting North Africa is endangered throughout its entire distribution range1. The ECWP aims to sustain wild populations via a captive breeding and reinforcement program2, producing birds through artificial insemination3,4 and releasing them in suitable natural areas5. The master project will be part of a larger project conducted by Pauline Vuarin (post-doctoral fellow at ECWP) and in collaboration with Yves Hingrat, Toni Chalah and Loïc Lesobre (RENECO for wildlife preservation, UAE), Gabriele Sorci (University of Dijon, France), Gwenaëlle Leveque (ECWP) and Michel Saint Jalme (National Museum of Natural History, France). The project aims to investigate post-copulatory mechanisms that may be involved in sexual selection in this bird species. Post-copulatory sexual selection refers to sperm competition and female cryptic choice, which can both arise from sexual promiscuity6. Copulating with more than one male may benefit to females directly (by increasing their fertility or probability to mate with better partners for instance), or indirectly through positive effects on their offspring (by increasing their genetic diversity or viability for instance)6. The houbara bustard (Chlamydotis undulata) has a lek-based mating system7, which imposes strong sexual selection. Females’ choice is potentially driven by males secondary sexual traits that are expressed during a complex and conspicuous display8,9. However, females mate with several males in the wild, resulting in frequent multiple paternities within broods10. One of the aims of the main project is to study the effect of relatedness in sperm competition and subsequent male reproductive success.

Research project and objectives. The student will test if fertilization success is affected by inbreeding, in order to complement another experiment which consists in performing inseminations with semen mixes from males varying in their degree of relatedness. First, the student will supervise inseminations of females divided into 3 groups (30-40 females/group): one that will receive sperm from an inbred individual (i.e. a brother), one that will receive sperm from a moderately inbred individual (i.e. a cousin) and one that will receive sperm from an unrelated individual. Then, the student will collect the eggs that these females will lay and he or she will assess whether or not these eggs are fertile through a method which highlights sperm presence on the oocyte using a DNA dye11. Finally, he or she will test if fertilization rates differ depending on relatedness degree. Occasionally, the student will also provide help on the evaluation of male semen quality (motility, viability and normality of spermatozoa, ejaculate volume and concentration). Results are expected to bring insights about the factors playing a role in post-copulatory mechanisms, as well as to help optimizing the management of artificial inseminations.

Profile and requirements. Applicants should be part of a master or engineer program in biology or ecology. Specialization in reproduction or evolutionary biology, as well as experience with data handling (excel/access) and statistical analysis (R) would be appreciated. We are looking for a dynamic, rigorous and organized person. Note that the successful candidate will be based at the ECWP in Morocco. Therefore, it is required that applicants are willing to spend several months in a remote place, living within a relatively small community, and able to work in a team and to communicate in French. The internship will last five to six months and will start in February or March 2016 (starting date flexible). Transportation, housing and monthly compensation will be provided.

Application and contacts. Applicants are requested to send a CV and a cover letter including the contact details of at least one referee to Pauline Vuarin ([email protected]), Yves Hingrat ([email protected]) and Gabriele Sorci ([email protected]), as soon as possible.

1. Goriup, P. D. The world status of the Houbara Bustard Chlamydotis undulata. Bird Conserv. Int. 7, 373–397 (1997).
2. Lacroix, F., Seabury, J., Al Bowardi, M. & Renaud, J. The Emirates Center for Wildlife Propagation: comprehensive strategy to secure self-sustaining wild populations of houbara bustard (Chlamydotis undulata undulata) in Eastern Morocco. Houbara News 5, 60–62 (2003).
3. Chargé, R. et al. Does recognized genetic management in supportive breeding prevent genetic changes in life-history traits? Evol. Appl. 7, 521–532 (2014).
4. Saint Jalme, M., Gaucher, P. & Paillat, P. Artificial insemination in Houbara bustards (Chlamydotis undulata): influence of the number of spermatozoa and insemination frequency on fertility and ability to hatch. J. Reprod. Fertil. 100, 93–103 (1994).
5. Monnet, A.-C., Hardouin, L. a., Robert, A., Hingrat, Y. & Jiguet, F. Evidence of a link between demographic rates and species habitat suitability from post release movements in a reinforced bird population. Oikos 124, 1089–1097 (2015).
6. Birkhead, T. R. & Pizzari, T. Postcopulatory Sexual Selection. Nat. Rev. Genet. 3, 262–273 (2002).
7. Hingrat, Y., Saint Jalme, M., Ysnel, F., Le Nuz, E. & Lacroix, F. Habitat use and mating system of the houbara bustard (Chlamydotis undulata undulata) in a semi-desertic area of North Africa: Implications for conservation. J. Ornithol. 148, 39–52 (2007).
8. Chargé, R., Jalme, M. Saint, Lacroix, F., Cadet, A. & Sorci, G. Male health status, signalled by courtship display, reveals ejaculate quality and hatching success in a lekking species. J. Anim. Ecol. 79, 843–850 (2010).
9. Cornec, C., Hingrat, Y. & Rybak, F. Individual signature in a lekking species: Visual and acoustic courtship parameters may help discriminating conspecifics in the houbara bustard. Ethology 120, 726–737 (2014).
10. Lesobre, L. et al. Absence of male reproductive skew, along with high frequency of polyandry and conspecific brood parasitism in the lekking Houbara bustard Chlamydotis undulata undulata. J. Avian Biol. 41, 117–127 (2010).
11. Croyle, K. E., Durrant, B. S. & Jensen, T. Detection of oocyte perivitelline membrane-bound sperm: a tool for avian collection management. Conserv. Physiol. 3, 1–12 (2015).

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