Does personality affect western ringtail possum survival?

Exploring the role of personality on survival outcomes for possums


The western ringtail possum (Pseudocheirus occidentalis) has an alarming high risk of extinction and there are anecdotal reports of possums “roaming around and getting in trouble”, which could be associated with personality traits that result in low survival and therefore poor conservation outcomes.

Animal personality is defined as consistent behavioural differences between individuals across time and contexts. Personality traits such as boldness, shyness, activity and aggressiveness have been shown to be correlated with exploration, survival and foraging behaviour in other species.

Thanks to a strategic alliance with FAWNA Inc., a not for profit organisation for the rescue and rehabilitation of native fauna, we will be able to test up to 100 western ringtail possums per year to measure their personality traits. These will then be correlated to their future behaviour and survival using radio telemetry to follow the fate of a subsample of animals.

We are looking for a PhD student who will be engaged in investigating these issues. The student will work closely with FAWNA and its veterinary officer and volunteers to develop methods to test possum personality traits and to select a subsample of possums with extreme personalities (e.g. the most bold and the most shy) to follow their fate post release using radio telemetry.

For more background information, see the suggested readings below.

Research team leader: Associate Professor Roberta Bencini

I mainly work on projects in wildlife conservation and management, with industry-funded projects to minimise the impacts of development and roads, road construction and other developments on wildlife. 

PhD opportunities

Interested in becoming part of this project? Complete the following steps to submit your expression of interest:

Step 1 - Check criteria

General UWA PhD entrance requirements can be found on the Future Students website.

Requirements specific to this project:

  • Existing PhD scholarship (we do not have funds for the stipend and funding is pending for the project).
  • Capacity and willingness to work in the field including at night (the species is nocturnal) and to spend a significant amount of time in the field.
  • Willingness to apply for funding to support operating costs for the project with assistance from the supervisor.

Step 2 - Submit enquiry to research team leader

Step 3 - Lodge application

After you have discussed your project with the research team leader, you should be in a position to proceed to the next step of the UWA application process: Lodge an applicationDifferent application procedures apply to domestic and international students.


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