Co-supervisor: Doctor David Roy, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
Co-supervisor: Associate Professor Fiona Mathews, The Mammal Society and University of Exeter, Streatham Campus, Exeter
The overarching goal of this project is to understand links between cats, cat owners, and biodiversity. This project will support an exciting new interdisciplinary collaboration investigating the largely unexplored socio-environmental importance of cat ownership.
The domestic cat (Felis catus) is a valued companion animal but also a predator of native species, responsible for millions of wildlife deaths annually in the UK (Woods et al., 2003). This dichotomy of roles is a source of conflict between stakeholders (e.g. owners and conservationists) globally. Public support is essential to combat this threat to biodiversity. Current research suggests owners are more receptive to management with obvious welfare benefits (McDonald et al., 2015) however further work is required to determine how to engage owners with this ecological issue.
We propose a PhD project with five interlinked objectives:
1. Identify spatial drivers of predation risk by modelling the spatial variation of cat abundance while incorporating information on habitat and community attributes. Applying Bayesian spatial models, this information will link with data on the abundance of threatened mammals to produce a national risk map of areas of ecological concern.
2. Implement a nationwide questionnaire to understand the drivers for cat-owners to engage with proposed management strategies (e.g. cat welfare) and the prevalence of individual cat management strategies.
3.Combine the dataset in (2) with the risk map in (1) to provide a synthesis of the data in relation to proximity to areas of ecological concern.
4. Using the insights gained in (2) and (3) we will test practical management strategies in high risk areas.
5. Utilising each council’s Local Plan, we will review the implementation of policy-enforced management strategies in high risk areas. Pairwise analysis of areas differing only in planning regulations using surveys of mammal fauna will elucidate the effectiveness of these mitigation strategies.
Crucially this project will allow the student to reveal localities where cats pose the greatest threat, providing a key resource to prioritise management strategies; provide an in-depth understanding of the motivations and attitudes of owners to indicate how best to approach the problem; fundamentally advance our understanding of the efficacy of individual- and policy-focussed management strategies.
The outputs of this project (national risk map, efficiency of individual- and policy-driven management, improved understanding of the motivations of cat owners) would provide a new computational resource for future social, policy and environmental research and support positive solutions for conservation of UK ecosystems.
Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK. Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree. Applicants with a minimum Upper Second Class degree and significant relevant non-academic experience are encouraged to apply. All applicants would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the project http://www.exeter.ac.uk/postgraduate/apply/english/ The majority of the studentships are available for applicants who are ordinarily resident in the UK and are classed as UK/EU for tuition fee purposes, however up to 9 fully funded studentships across the DTP are available for EU/EEA applicants not ordinarily resident in the UK. Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding.
Funding NotesThis project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP). The studentships will provide funding for a stipend (currently £14,057 pa), research costs and UK/EU tuition fees for 3.5 years for full-time students (part-time students pro-rata). Applicants must be classed as UK/EU for tuition fee purposes. Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are not eligible for funding. For further details including academic eligibility criteria please see the advert on the University of Exeter website.
Woods, M., McDonald, R. A., & Harris, S. (2003). Predation of wildlife by domestic cats Felis catus in Great Britain. Mammal review, 33(2), 174-188.