PHD Project

October 10, 2023

Can prey behaviour explain habitat associations of seabirds?

Seabirds on rocks

Understanding animal responses to environmental variation help predict population-level impacts from climate change and habitat modifications. In recent times, studies identifying relationships between animals and environmental conditions have become increasingly abundant, with many studies using these relationships to predict future abundance or distributions. However, relationships between animals and environmental conditions are often complicated, with environmental conditions impacting animals indirectly by changing resource abundance or exploitability. Understanding these relationships requires concurrent information on environmental conditions, resources, and animals. Without this information, relationships between animals and environmental conditions cannot be verified, and spurious predictions of future abundance or distribution are possible.  This PhD project combines datasets with concurrent information on oceanography, schooling fish and Alcidae foraging behaviour in several locations (Iceland, North Sea, Irish Sea) to investigate whether prey behaviour consistently explains habitat associations in seabirds. To do this, detailed analyses on datasets from 2 contrasting locations (north Anglesey, northwestern Iceland) will address fundamental questions in habitat-use, focussing on which prey behaviour(s) facilitate foraging activities, and which oceanographic conditions facilitate selected prey behaviour(s). Following these analyses, datasets from additional locations (Liverpool Bay, Isle of Man, eastern Scotland) will be analysed alongside those from Iceland and Anglesey to compare selected prey behaviour(s) across locations and species. Therefore, this PhD project will provide invaluable insights into the mechanisms governing at-sea distributions of seabirds, assisting those using environmental associations to predict population-level responses to climate change and habitat modifications.  As this project encompasses several disciplines (oceanography, fisheries-science, and marine ecology), extensive and diverse training is provided by supervisors, project partners, and specialist courses.  The provision of datasets and in-kind support from several large projects (ACCELERATE, PELAgIO, LOMVIA, SHEAR and SEEC) provide invaluable opportunities for wider collaboration and networking. Finally, the involvement of institutions with ongoing fieldwork also provides opportunities to experience data collection first-hand.



Candidates shall be good honours graduates in appropriate subject areas, of a recognised university or comparable university, or persons holding equivalent qualifications who show evidence of exceptional ability, or who have demonstrated their ability in graduate studies.


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