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January 16, 2017

Understanding population declines in Afro-Palearctic migrant birds

Understanding population declines in Afro-Palearctic migrant birds 400 x 400 px

The decline of Afro-Palearctic migrant bird populations is a major challenge facing European biodiversity. Avian population trends are important indicators of environmental change and used by the UK government to measure ‘quality of life’, so reversing these declines is high on scientific and political agendas.

Migrants are more vulnerable to environmental change than residents because of their multistage life cycle, and understanding the interactions between pressures faced on breeding grounds, migration routes and wintering areas is critical to their conservation. However, remarkably little is known about the ecology of many species once they leave their breeding grounds.

This project will be among the first integrated studies of a migrant bird’s ecology at each stage of its life cycle. The Common Sandpiper is a shorebird that breeds throughout Europe and is thought to winter in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite its name, the European breeding population has declined dramatically in recent years, but the causes of these declines are unclear and very little is known about the migration routes and wintering grounds of these birds.

This study aims to: (1) determine the factors affecting breeding success and survival in a UK population; (2) use geolocators to establish migration strategies and wintering grounds; (3) investigate winter site fidelity and foraging ecology in a Senegalese population; and (4) use the results of (1)-(3) to construct a model of population change in this species.

The results will therefore provide critical information to the conservation of Common Sandpipers, but will also offer unique insights into the decline of migratory species more generally. The research combines challenging but exciting fieldwork in both the UK and Africa with analysis of geospatial data and population modelling.

Full training will be provided for all of these elements, giving the student a diverse skill set for a career in ecology or conservation.

We are looking for applicants with a strong interest in avian conservation, excellent ecological field experience and a willingness to work independently overseas. Applicants must also hold a minimum of a UK Honours degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in a relevant discipline and a valid driving licence. Bird ringing experience and basic French language skills are advantageous but not essential.

For further details please contact Dr Stuart Sharp s.sharp2@lancaster.ac.uk or Dr Andrew MacColl andrew.maccoll@nottingham.ac.uk