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"Are we there yet?" Quantifying progress of invasive non-native species eradication using spatial capture-recapture and pedigree reconstruction.

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  • Full or part time
    Prof X Lambin
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

Invasive non-native species (INNS) threaten biodiversity world-wide. In Scotland, introduced mammals including American mink, hedgehogs, grey squirrels and stoats damage multiple SPA or SAC designated areas. Scotland’s Wildlife and Natural Environment Act 2011 facilitates effective action against INNS, and the substantial experience and expertise gained from ongoing control and eradication programs involving both citizen conservationists and professionals place Scotland at the international forefront of INSS management.
A feature of all vertebrate INSS control efforts other than the use of toxins for rats on islands, is the need to physically capture (trap or shoot) individuals. As a result, INSS populations are gradually depleted and the offtake must be sufficiently large to overcome natural compensatory increases in fecundity and dispersal at reduced densities. Moreover, limited resources for INNS eradication dictates that only a fraction of the invaded areas are trapped simultaneously meaning only some individuals are targeted and many may avoid capture. The existence of such temporary refuges from culling combined with dispersal makes achieving eradication a protracted process.
Completing an eradication requires a formal assessment of the size and distribution of the residual INSS population and, in turn, of the likely financial commitment that remains. At present we lack any robust method for quantifying eradication progress in real time.
A major obstacle to Scotland capitalising on its vast expertise to simultaneously tackle multiple established INSS is the uncertainty about the duration and hence cost of eradication efforts. This is exemplified by the high profile Hebridean Mink Project (now in its 12th year). Once initiated, expenditure in even protracted eradication projects must continue until the last INNS individuals have demonstrably been removed to prevent earlier investment being wasted. It is crucial therefore that INNS managers have progress assessment tools at their disposal to adaptively optimise efforts. This will likely contribute to (match-) funders being convinced of the feasibility and tractability of their endeavours, and commit to future investment in INNS eradication
The aim of this studentship is to provide a tool to INNS managers worldwide that will make it possible to track the progress of eradication efforts using genetic samples from culled individuals and where required, non-invasively collected samples of the residual feral population.
Our approach will use simulations to characterise the spatial demographic and genetic structure of controlled populations. This will be used to inform eradication programmes that in turn will deliver tissue samples (both from culled animals and non-invasive samples from untrapped individuals). These will then be used to genetically characterise the population in terms of individual and family pedigrees that can be used to examine directly patterns of dispersal and interaction. These will then be used to inform spatial capture-recapture models that can provide robust estimates of population size and progress towards the ultimate goal of eradication.

Application Process
Please apply for admission to the ’Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Science’ to ensure that your application is passed to the correct School for processing.
Please provide a copy of the degree certificate and transcript for each previous degree undertaken, a copy of your English language proficiency certificate (if relevant), and contact details of two referees who can comment on your previous academic performance (at least one should be from your current degree programme). Incomplete applications will not be considered.

Funding Notes

There is no funding attached to this project, it is for self-funded students only.

Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2.2 Honours degree may be considered provided they have a Distinction at Masters level.

References

1. Bryce, R; Oliver, MK; Davies, L; Gray, H; Urquhart, J and X Lambin (2011) Turning back the tide of American mink invasion at an unprecedented scale through community participation and adaptive management. Biological Conservation 144, 575–583
2. Fraser, E.J., Lambin, X., McDonald, R.A. & Redpath, S.M. 2015. Stoat (Mustela erminea) on the Orkney Islands – assessing risks to native species. Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No. 871.
3. Lambin, X., Cornulier, T., Oliver, M.K. & Fraser, E.J. 2014. Analysis and future application of Hebridean Mink Project data. Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No. 522.
4. Prada, D., Veale, a, Duckworth, J., Murphy, E., Treadgold, S., Howitt, R., Hunter, S. & Gleeson, D. (2014) Unwelcome visitors: employing forensic methodologies.



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