PHD Project

October 9, 2023

Holed-up, but not safe: the impact of climate change on behaviour, populations, and communities of hole nesting birds

Nestlings in a nest box

Climate change is influencing wildlife populations across the globe, often resulting in changes in behaviour and the timing of key life events throughout the year. Both temperature and precipitation are likely to influence individuals, but often the effects of precipitation are often overlooked. We know little about how individuals adjust to such changes through plasticity in behaviour, or how variation within populations might buffer the impact of change. Furthermore, how these individual-level effects scale up to influence populations is not well known for many species.

The effects of climate change can also vary between species living in the same area and between populations of the same species. Despite observing this variation, it is not well understood why species and populations differ in their ability to cope with changing climatic conditions. Using a combination of long-term data, cutting edge population modelling, and manipulative field experiments, the student will investigate three key questions:

1) How much variation is there within and between individual breeding birds for key reproductive behaviours and traits, and what are the consequences for population dynamics?

2) To what extent can breeders adjust their reproductive behaviour in response to climate-induced changes in weather, and what are the consequences for individual fitness of breeders and their offspring?

3) Does adjusting to climate change increase competition within or between species, and does that alter the structure of avian communities?

This project will involve extensive fieldwork in both the UK and the Netherlands working with wild birds. It will also provide an opportunity to learn advanced population modelling techniques and combine these approaches with field observations of behaviour and the design of field experiments using cutting-edge technology.


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. Past field or laboratory research experience, especially related to population ecology, animal behaviour, zoology, or conservation science, is an advantage but will not be used as an exclusion criteria for shortlisting.

Email address for enquiries.

For further details about this project please contact Dr Alex Sutton (email: