PHD Project

October 10, 2023

Thirsting Giants of the African Savanna: Assessing the vulnerability of Elephant water resources to climate change

Elephants at a water hole

African elephants are keystone species, shaping the ecosystems they inhabit. Their survival hinges on access to freshwater sources, making them acutely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. This PhD project delves into the intricacies of this relationship, exploring the combined effects of climate change on the availability and quality of water that sustains these charismatic megafaunas, and the potential for human-elephant conflict over this critical resource, with both conservation and public health implications. The project breaks new ground by embracing a uniquely multidisciplinary approach, integrating climatology, hydrology, remote sensing, wildlife conservation, movement ecology, and public health. This comprehensive strategy will provide a holistic understanding of how shifting climate dynamics could jeopardize elephants’ access to essential water resources, while also increasing the likelihood of conflict with human populations. The project’s framework comprises distinct yet interconnected components. It commences with an examination of historical climate data, establishing a foundation for understanding climatic trends in key elephant habitats. These insights are then woven into climate models that project future changes under various climate scenarios and the potential for conflict with human populations at key ‘hotspots’ which will be identified using the collected data. Collaborations with conservation organizations and local stakeholders ensure that the project remains anchored in the practical realities of elephant habitat utilization. Ultimately, “Thirsting Giants” merges scientific insight with actionable conservation strategies. By unravelling the complex connections between climate change, water availability, and human interactions the project empowers stakeholders to devise adaptive management plans crucial for safeguarding not only African elephants but also the ecosystems they shape, and the human populations with whom they share the landscape. In confronting the urgent challenges presented by a changing climate, this project stands as a beacon of hope for the future of these awe-inspiring giants of the African landscape.

Eligibility. This project would be suitable for students with a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level, or equivalent, in environmental sciences, geography, or a relevant biological discipline, such as ecology, zoology, conservation biology or animal behaviour. Candidates that have a Masters Degree and/or experience in ecological research are strongly encouraged to apply, as are those with a firm grounding and interest in large herbivore ecology, wildlife conservation and the quantitative analysis of spatial datasets. Although not essential, it would be beneficial for the student to have some experience of using a programming language such as Python, R, or MATLAB, and some familiarity with Arc-GIS mapping software. It will also be an advantage to have good communication skills, a practical attitude, and to be pro-active and self-motivated.

Enquiries. Contact: iestyn.woolway@bangor.ac.uk