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From personality to prey: understanding movement of migratory shorebirds during the non-breeding period

   Faculty of Science

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  Dr Christine Beardsworth, Dr Allert Bijleveld, Dr Samantha Franks, Prof S Mariani  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

We are seeking a PhD candidate with a strong interest in connecting fundamental science to real-world conservation outputs to identify the drivers of movement in shorebirds within the non-breeding season.

Arctic-breeding migratory shorebirds are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Even in their overwintering grounds they face a future of limited food availability, with sea level rise and anthropogenic changes to their habitat threatening their winter survival. Every year, thousands of islandica red knots migrate from the Arctic to North-western Europe. Many of these individuals moult in the Dutch Wadden Sea but while some opt to stay over winter, others will move to the intertidal zones of the UK, such as Liverpool Bay and the Wash. However, the connectivity of these sites is poorly understood, and individuals may differ in their tendency to move between them. Considering global declines in shorebird numbers, we must inform local conservation efforts by investigating the relative importance of UK sites within this intertidal network and improve our understanding of how individual movement contributes to the resilience of the population.

By joining an international collaboration between Liverpool John Moores University, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), the student will use the first multi-national ATLAS tracking system to track birds in both the Wadden sea and UK intertidal zones. Movement tracking will be supplemented by colour-ring reading reports from a network of citizen scientists across sites. The project aims to investigate the mechanisms underlying movements of individuals between intertidal zones in their non-breeding area. As well as using state-of-the-art tracking methods, the student will receive training in personality assays and diet analyses (DNA metabarcoding) and will have the opportunity to visit to partner organisation, NIOZ, to engage in fieldwork in the Netherlands, as well as the UK.

Primary Supervisor:

Dr Christine Beardsworth (Liverpool John Moores University, LJMU)


Dr Stefano Mariani (LJMU)

Dr Allert Bijleveld (Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, NIOZ)

Dr Samantha Franks (British Trust for Ornithology, BTO)

Further reading

Beardsworth, C.E., Gobbens, E., van Maarseveen, F., Denissen, B.,

Dekinga, A., Nathan, R., Toledo, S., Bijleveld, A.I., 2022. Validating ATLAS: A

regional-scale high-throughput tracking system. Methods Ecol Evol 13,


Bijleveld, A.I., van Gils, J.A., van der Meer, J., Dekinga, A., Kraan,

C., van der Veer, H.W., Piersma, T., 2012. Designing a benthic monitoring

programme with multiple conflicting objectives. Methods Ecol Evol 3, 526–536.

Bijleveld, A.I., van Maarseveen, F., Denissen, B., Dekinga, A., Penning, E., Ersoy, S., Gupte, P.R., de Monte, L., ten Horn, J., Bom, R.A., Toledo, S., Nathan, R., Beardsworth, C.E., 2022. WATLAS: high-throughput and real-time tracking of many small birds in the Dutch Wadden Sea. Anim Biotelem 10, 36.

Ersoy, S., Beardsworth, C.E., Dekinga, A., van der Meer, M.T.J., Piersma,

T., Groothuis, T.G.G., Bijleveld, A.I., 2022. Exploration speed in captivity

predicts foraging tactics and diet in free-living red knots. J Anim Ecol 91,


Funding Notes

The selected student will be considered for a LJMU VC PhD Studentship. These studentships are highly competitive and therefore a Master’s degree in a relevant discipline and/or relevant work experience is desirable. If successful, the student will receive three years funding covering tuition fees, UKRI-standard student stipend and research support. The studentship will start during the February 2024 Doctoral Academy enrolment window.


We particularly welcome and encourage applications from under-represented groups and disadvantaged backgrounds. Informal enquiries can be sent to the primary supervisor, Christine Beardsworth ( before submitting a full application.

To apply, applicants should email Dr Beardsworth, attaching a personal statement (max 500 words), a CV, and the contact details of two referees. In the personal statement, please detail your suitability for the project by highlighting your research interests and relevant experience.

The deadline for applications is 7th July 2023 at 5pm BST and shortlisted applicants will be contacted for an interview via teams during mid-July.
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