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Citizen science and the ecology of garden birds and mammals

   Department of Biosciences

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  Dr P Stephens, Prof Russell Hill, Prof M Whittingham, Dr Mark Wilson  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Background: Globally, urbanisation represents a major process of landscape-scale habitat change. Urbanisation is typically associated with both reductions in biodiversity and altered patterns of species’ behaviour. In this context, urban gardens and other green spaces can serve as significant resources - or even refugia - for wildlife. This has prompted increasing interest, within the UK, in wildlife-friendly gardening practices. Urban gardens also represent an important focus for human-wildlife interactions in communities that are increasingly disassociated from the natural world. In order to assess the value to biodiversity of gardens (and of different gardening practices), a number of citizen science initiatives encourage members of the public to record the occurrence and prevalence of certain taxa. Repeated surveys enable monitoring of changes in these measures, potentially linking them to relevant environmental variation. A prominent example of such an initiative is the British Trust for Ornithology’s Garden Bird Watch (GBW). This survey involves approximately 12,000 volunteers, who have provided details of their gardens and garden management, and regularly submit records of birds and, increasingly, mammals observed in their gardens. A smaller but burgeoning scheme is MammalWeb, which enlists members of the public to deploy camera traps in their gardens or other areas local to them. Camera traps are triggered by a combination of movement and body heat to capture images recording the presence and activity of garden mammals (as well as many bird species). The images and associated metadata are made available to volunteers via an online platform ( and collaboratively classified to provide geo-referenced information on species' occurrence and activity. This project will link data from these two schemes, as well as those available from other BTO surveys. This will yield insights about the complementarity and wider relevance of these schemes, and improve our understanding of interactions between, and requirements of, different taxa. The findings of the project will have relevance for the fields of citizen science, monitoring and urban ecology.

Aims: The student will work with staff from both GBW and MammalWeb, helping to build a network of contributors to both projects. They will analyse data collected from this pool of dual-contributors, as well as data collected independently from both schemes. They will also have access to mammal data collected during the BBS. They will use these data to answer key questions, including: (i) could a camera trap loan model be implemented successfully to link MammalWeb and the GBW at a national level? (ii) what factors affect participation in MammalWeb by BTO members? (iii) how do mammal data collected in the BBS relate to those collected by MammalWeb and the GBW over corresponding time periods and regions? (iv) does knowledge of mammal occurrence help to inform occupancy models for key bird species in areas of data overlap? (v) are species’ daily and seasonal activity schedules affected by garden features, homeowner behaviours or the presence of other species? and (vi) 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?

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 but would like more information, or have queries about the application process, feel free to contact Prof. Stephens. Otherwise, applications are anonymous and should be submitted via the IAPETUS2 website ( after the application window opens (c. 12th November 2021). Experience suggests that competitive applicants will have a first-class degree (or equivalent) and a master's degree, and may have additional experience in relevant areas of research.
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