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ENV East Doctoral Training Partnership

 

Applications to the EnvEast Doctoral Training Partnership are now closed.

Below you can browse some of the PhD projects we have previously funded; if you would like to be informed when applications open, or if you have any questions about EnvEast and our application process, please email us.

Projects previously funded by EnvEast

FRANCO_UENV15EE

Mechanisms driving changes in migratory behaviour of long lived birds in response to global environmental change (FRANCO_UENV15EE)

Project description

Background

The migratory patterns of animals are changing in response to global environmental change. Previously wholly migratory species wintering in Sub-Saharan Africa now have resident populations in Southern Europe. The causes of these changes are not fully established but both climate change and increased winter food availability have been proposed as possible factors. White storks are an iconic species that took advantage of a reliable and abundant food source at land fill sites. Resident birds feed, almost exclusively, in land fill sites during the winter period. Preliminary results indicate that birds that feed on landfill sites have higher breeding success. Many landfill sites are due to close during 2015 and 2016, due to the implementation of EU regulations, providing the experimental setting for this project.

This project will explore the consequences of a dramatic reduction in food availability for resident birds and for the migratory behaviour of white storks. This project will require tracking individual birds using state-of-the-art GPS/GSM solar panel loggers that provide high temporal and spatial resolution.  White storks are a good study system because they are a long-lived species likely to have adaptable behaviour because they experience variation in environmental conditions through their lives. This project has a new experimental design taking advantage of the closure of land fill sites and has the potential to unravel some of the mechanisms underlying bird migratory behaviour and to be relevant for conservation and to the general public.

Objectives

Identify the (heritable) determinant of migratory behaviour in storks, including relationships with parental migratory behaviour and the degree of interbreeding between migrants and non-migrants;

  • Determine individual determinants of migratory behaviour (sex, foraging site selection, body condition);
  • Determine the demographic consequences of migration and residency, including over-winter survival and breeding success;
  • Determine level of consistency in migratory behaviour;
  • Determine the population consequences of demographic changes in migrants and residents in response to future environmental changes.

Methods

This project will use low-cost, high performance GPS/GSM tags to monitor the movement and behaviour of adult white storks and their offspring. Fifty new loggers will be deployed in accessible nests in Portugal and Spain. In addition to the new data collected, the project will take advantage of a large existing dataset with high-resolution movement locations of white storks in Europe: 50 birds tracked in Portugal (in collaboration with the  University of Lisbon, funded by the FCT and ELSA); 80 birds tracked in Spain (in collaboration with SEO/Birdlife), 30 birds tracked in Switzerland (in collaboration with SOS-Stork).  This is a large dataset that offers excellent opportunities to test the hypotheses detailed above. This project is built on a long lasting interaction between researchers based at UEA, University of Lisbon, BTO and a field team in Portugal. It will take advantage of the existing databases, expertise in data analyses and field techniques.

Training

The student will join an active, NERC-funded research environment, in which the supervisors focus on studying how global environmental change affects species distributions, and the mechanisms underlying different migratory strategies and changes in migratory behaviour (e.g. Thomas et al. 2006, Gill et al 2001).

The successful candidate will receive specific training in:

  • New techniques to describe animal movement based on high spatial and temporal resolution logger data;
  • Modelling animal population dynamics and testing the effect of different demographic parameters;
  • Survival analyses to examine consequences of different migratory strategies;
  • Modelling population level consequences of environmental change;
  • Capture, handling and marking of wild birds;
  • Management and analysis of large databases of animal movement patterns;
  • Statistical data analysis skills and techniques, including analyses of behavioural, demographic and movement data at a range of spatial scales;
  • Professional skills, including scientific data presentation and publication (at UEA and at domestic and international conferences);
  • Organisation of scientific events (e.g. the annual Rebellion conference at UEA);
  • Personal and professional skills available through a wide variety of UEA PPD courses, including detailed training in statistics and GIS.

Requirements

Previous knowledge on the methods and techniques mentioned above will be advantageous.

Shortlisted applicants will be invited to an interview day on either Thursday 12 or Friday 13 February 2015.

Funding

This project has been shortlisted for funding from the EnvEast NERC Doctoral Training Partnership. Successful candidates who meet RCUK's eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship. In most cases, UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award. The stipend for 2014/15 was £13,863 p.a.

Applications

We recommend you read our 'How to Apply' page before starting your application.

References

Both C, et al. (2010) Avian population consequences of climate change are most severe for long-distance migrants in seasonal habitats. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 277: 1259-1266.

Catry I, et al. (2011) Individual variation in migratory movements and winter behaviour of Iberian Lesser Kestrels Falco naumanni revealed by geolocators. Ibis 153: 154-164.

Gordo O, et al. (2005) Do changes in climate patterns in wintering areas affect the timing of the spring arrival of trans-Saharan migrant birds? Global Change Biology 11: 12-21.

Co-Supervisors

Prof Jenny Gill, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia

Prof David S Richardson, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia

Dr Ines Catry, University of Lisbon

Dr Phil Atkinson, British Trust for Ornithology (CASE partner)

  • Start date October 2015
  • Programme PhD
  • Mode of Study Full-time
  • Studentship Length 3.5 years
Entry requirements
  • Minimum Entry Standard 2:1 Honours degree, or overseas equivalent