mardi 15 novembre 2016

Fully funded PhD position - Gulls and garbage: the ecology, behaviour and physiology of a human-wildlife conflict

Dear all please find below information about a fully funded NERC Case Studentship at the University of St Andrews, in collaboration with the BTO. 

Gulls and garbage: the ecology, behaviour and physiology of a human-wildlife conflict.

Start date: September 2017, running for 4 years

Supervisors: Dr Karen Spencer, Dr Jeroen Minderman (St Andrews) and Dr Liz Humphreys (BTO Scotland).

Background: In response to an increasingly urbanised world, many animals have rapidly adapted to living in built-up environments. This includes two species of gull in the UK, herring- and lesser black-backed gulls, which increasingly nest and forage in close proximity to humans. This has led to growing numbers of reports of disturbance and nuisance, including direct attacks, hazards to aircraft and pathogen transmission, and subsequent control efforts. This is problematic, as both species are currently undergoing population declines. The proposed projects takes a multidisciplinary approach to understand the behavioural and physiological mechanisms underlying the adaptation of herring and lesser black-backed gulls to anthropogenic environments, focussing on the role of early life experience. Early life experiences can have significant life-long impacts on many traits. Although this may be particularly relevant for gulls provisioning their chicks with diets increasingly sourced from urban areas, this has not been studied to date. For example, both diets of lower nutritional quality as well as variation in stress hormone levels associated with urban foraging may lead to changes in physiological and behavioural development of chicks. Studies in other species have suggested that such patterns may lead to "developmental programming" of offspring, so that they cope better in particular environments in later life. For gulls making increasing use of urban areas this may have strong effects on population dynamics, but this has not been studied.

The interdisciplinary project aims to: 1. Determine the extent to which birds breeding in coastal and urban environments utilise anthropogenic sites for feeding and how resultant dietary differences affect both egg hormone levels and physiological stress responses in chicks. 2. Determine the nature and consequences of behavioural and physiological differences between individuals hatching in different environments, specifically the ability of nestlings to cope with unfamiliar environments, and effects of this on chick development and foraging behaviour of juveniles. 3. Develop a model to predict how variation in early life experience (e.g. diet and subsequent physiological and behavioural differences) in different environments may affect site usage in later life and resulting population dynamics.

Training: The successful candidate will learn a wide range of techniques, including field survey and sampling techniques, the use of tracking technologies, modelling techniques, physiological assays and design and implementation of behavioural experiments. This project will therefore provide the student with an outstanding training experience. Fieldwork will be carried out in Scotland. 

How to apply: The PhD is funded by the NERC, hence it is open to all qualified UK residents. A relevant degree (BSc) is required and further postgraduate study is also favourable. EU residents are also eligible to apply for the full funding level (stipend of £14,296 p.a. plus fee payment) if they have been resident in the UK for three years or more at studentship commencement. Other EU nationals may also be eligible for part funding of this project. For more details please contact the named supervisor.

In the first instance please contact Dr Karen Spencer (, to discuss your application. A formal application form will then be filled out.

Initial interviews are likely to be held in January 2017, with a final interview held in February 2017.

Deadline for applications to Dr Spencer: 13th January 2017.