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Ph. D. Project (H/F) Flexibility of feeding strategies in primates

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Date Limite Candidature : lundi 17 mai 2021

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General information

Reference : UMR7194-SANPRA-003
Workplace : PARIS 13
Date of publication : Monday, April 26, 2021
Scientific Responsible name : Sandrine Prat, Cécile Garcia, Sébastien Bouret
Type of Contract : PhD Student contract / Thesis offer
Contract Period : 36 months
Start date of the thesis : 1 October 2021
Proportion of work : Full time
Remuneration : 2 135,00 € gross monthly

Description of the thesis topic

During the course of human evolution, hominins broadened their dietary spectrum and their ability to adapt to variation in resources availability, which requires foraging planification and an optimization of their energetic balance (i.e. maximization of benefits and minimization of costs (time and/or energy for accessing or manipulating food)). In order to optimize this energetic balance while dealing with the influence of social factors inherent of living in group, extant primates and extinct hominins must (or had to) adjust their foraging strategies using specific cognitive abilities such as mental representations of food (availability, risks and costs of obtaining it [Garcia et al., 2021]), and its specific position in space and time. This holistic and interdisciplinary project, combining approaches from behavioural ecology, cognitive neurosciences and palaeoanthropology, aims to identify the cognitive mechanisms underlying the flexibility of feeding strategies in primates. It will provide a theoretical framework for identifying the roles of energy optimization and social constraints in the adjustment of foraging strategies and their associated cognitive processes. It will test the hypothesis that, in extant primates and extinct hominins, costs and benefits optimization associated with the acquisition of “high-risk, high-yield” food (e.g. aquatic resources) involves the development of specific cognitive operations (e.g. planning, metacognition) and specific brain regions. The exploitation of these " high-risk, high-yield" food resources reflecting similar ecological constraints and cognitive operations in primates, the study of the cognitive and behavioural adaptations of non-human primates to environmental constraints will provide a better understanding of the possible contexts of use of these resources by hominins, as well as the impact on their energetic balance.
The objectives of this project are: 1) to determine, the influence of social factors and the cost/benefit ratio on the feeding strategies of one of the rare species of non-human primates consuming in natura marine aquatic resources associated with high costs and benefits, the Japanese macaque (fieldwork in Japan); 2) to identify the cognitive operations involved in the exploitation of high-risk, high-yield food resources in captive primates that use or not aquatic resources and tools in natura, using non-invasive behavioural tests involving specific cognitive operations (i.e. planning, meta-cognition); 3) to identify the neurobiological processes related to these cognitive functions by assessing the relationship between the size of brain regions involved in planning and metacognition and socio-ecological variables [Louail et al, 2019], both in extant primates and fossil hominins.


Garcia C., Bouret S., Druelle F., Prat S. 2021. Balancing cost and benefits in primates : ecological and paleoanthropological views. Phil Trans R Soc Lon B 376: 20190667
Louail M., Gilissen E., Prat S., Garcia C., Bouret S. 2019. Refining the Ecological brain: strong relation between the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and feeding ecology in five primate species. Cortex, 118: 262-274.

Work Context

The doctoral project is financed by the CNRS 80|PRIME initiative and is developed in the framework of an inter-institute collaboration (INEE, INSB) between the UMR 7194 (HNHP_Histoire naturelle de l'Homme préhistorique), UMR7206 (EA_Eco-Anthropologie) and UMR 7225 (ICM_Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle Epinière).
The PhD student will be located at the Musée de l'Homme (UMR 7194).
The supervision will be provided by two CNRS researchers (S. Prat and C. Garcia) from the MNHN H&E department and one CNRS researcher (S. Bouret) from the Institut du Cerveau et de la Moelle épinière (ICM). Sandrine Prat (UMR 7194) is a palaeoanthropologist working on evolution, feeding behaviour and tool use in hominins. Cécile Garcia (UMR 7206) is a specialist in behavioural ecology working on energetics, feeding and reproductive strategies in an evolutionary perspective. Sébastien Bouret (UMR 7225) is a neuroscientist, expert in motivation in primates.

Constraints and risks

Considering the transdisciplinarity of the project, different candidate profiles will be suitable. Holder of a Master 2 in ecology, in biological anthropology/palaeoanthropology or in cognitive sciences, he/she will have a great capacity for analyzing complex data sets (e.g. high proficiency in R). He/she will display great level of motivation for fieldwork, behavioral observation and writing, along with a strong willingness to work within a multidisciplinary team, and rapid integration into different cultures. Field experience and/or experience with primates is recommended.

Additional Information

Applications must be submitted through the CNRS portal. Applications should include a CV, a letter of motivation, a letter of recommendation and the contact details of two referees, as well as the transcript of marks and rank obtained during the Master's.
For any information or informal request, please contact Sandrine Prat, Cécile Garcia and Sébastien Bouret (sandrine.prat@mnhn.fr, cecile.garcia@mnhn.fr, sebastien.bouret@icm-institute.org).

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