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Citizen science and the ecology of garden birds and mammals

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  • Full or part time
    Dr P Stephens
    Prof Russell Hill
    Dr Mark Wilson
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Camera-trapping (using automated cameras to detect and record free-roaming animals) has huge potential to improve our understanding of many species, especially those that are secretive or nocturnal. Improvements in technology and affordability have resulted in a rapid growth in the number of people in the UK owning and operating camera traps. There is, therefore, huge potential for citizen science initiatives to contribute to surveys and monitoring, particularly of UK mammals. At present, however, this is largely untapped.

In the UK, the majority of camera-trapping by members of the public is carried out in gardens. Urban gardens are important for biodiversity and wildlife from a number of perspectives. Globally, urbanisation is among the most profound types of ongoing landscape-scale habitat change. Insights from studies in urban gardens can help us to evaluate the impacts of this change, and understand how wildlife responds to them. Gardens can be significant resources for wildlife in our towns and cities, and also represent an important focus for human-wildlife interactions in urban areas where people may feel disconnected from the natural world.

Several citizen science initiatives encourage members of the public to record various aspects of biodiversity in their gardens. Where such surveys are repeated they enable monitoring of change, which can be linked to wider ecological and societal trends. The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO, www.bto.org) is at the forefront of citizen science, and enlists the help of thousands of volunteers to survey wildlife in their gardens. MammalWeb (www.mammalweb.org) has been developed as a platform to facilitate camera trapping for wildlife research. Hundreds of members of the public now upload footage from the camera traps in their gardens to MammalWeb. This project will link data from BTO and MammalWeb, and explore ways in which their surveys can support and enhance one another. The findings of the project will have relevance for the fields of citizen science, monitoring and urban ecology.

The successful candidate will lead on developing the partnership and answering key questions, such as: (i) do features of gardens that favour higher bird species richness or increased prevalence of key bird species also favour higher wild mammal species richness or increased prevalence of key mammal species? (ii) does mammal occurrence explain patterns of bird abundance or occupancy in areas of data overlap? (iii) are species’ daily and seasonal activity schedules affected by garden features, homeowner behaviours or the presence of other species? (iv) how do mammal data collected by the BTO compare with those collected by MammalWeb over corresponding time periods and regions? (v) what factors affect participation in MammalWeb by BTO members? and (vi) could a camera trap loan system help to extend camera-trapping to a wider audience?

The successful candidate will employ a range of approaches, gaining skills in cutting-edge analytical methodologies whilst working with a leading biodiversity-monitoring NGO. This will equip them with a unique and highly-relevant skillset in ecology, monitoring and citizen science. They are expected to deliver valuable insights into urban ecology and large-scale monitoring of mammals.

This project is co-supervised by Prof Russell Hill (Durham Anthropology) and Dr Mark Wilson (British Trust for Ornithology)

Funding Notes

This project is in competition with others for funding. Success will depend on the quality of applications received, relative to those for competing projects. If you are interested in applying, contact Dr Stephens in the first instance, with a CV and covering letter, detailing your interest in and fit to the project. Note that competition for this funding scheme is intense; competitive applicants usually have exemplary academic records in addition to relevant experience. Publications are a distinct advantage. Application materials will include a CV, academic records and at least two letters of reference (received by the deadline).

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