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Gardening for wildlife: Drivers of avian productivity

Project Description

The world is urbanising rapidly and by 2050 it is predicted that 60% of the global human population will be living in urban areas. Urbanisation inevitably results in changes in habitat as well as in the availability of natural food to wildlife. Given that such changes can have profound impacts on both human and non-human populations, and given the increasing concerns about climate change under intensifying urbanisation scenarios, it is timely that we learn lessons from wildlife that is adapting to city life and its concomitant ever-changing environmental challenges.

Traditionally, ecologists have used thoughtful study design to attempt experimentally to manipulate single extrinsic variables while holding all others constant within a scientific ‘arena’. This is particularly true of manipulations of food availability through supplementary feeding of urban-adapted birds that have mimicked urban bird feeding but within a rural setting. A multi-year feeding study carried out in a rural homogeneous deciduous woodland 12 km outside of the city of Birmingham revealed a consistent advancement in laying but reduced clutch and brood sizes produced by Blue Tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) and Great Tits (Parus major). However, applying findings from such studies to urban environments remains problematic because experimental feeding treatments are not replicable by the bird-feeding public in cities, especially when single birds can feed in numerous city gardens during the breeding season.

In this project we will not change what and how citizen scientists are feeding birds in their gardens and at schools. Instead, we will test the hypotheses that avian breeding performance is positively related to: (i) food supplement availability, and (ii) the availability of habitat that supports invertebrate prey for adults and nestlings. Previous research has revealed that suburban areas of Birmingham show spikes in avian productivity and this PhD will identify a potential mechanism through which this finding is mediated.

Funding Notes

CENTA studentships are for 3.5 years and are funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). In addition to the full payment of their tuition fees, successful candidates will receive the following financial support.
• Annual stipend, set at £15,009 for 2019/20
• Research training support grant (RTSG) of £8,000


Cox, D. T. C. et al. (2016) ‘Movement of feeder-using songbirds: The influence of urban features’, Scientific Reports, 6, 37669.
Deeming, D. C., and Reynolds, S. J. (2015) ‘Nests, Eggs, & Incubation: New Ideas about Avian Reproduction’, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
Dickinson, J. L., and Bonney, R. (2012) ‘Citizen Science: Public Participation in Environmental Research’, Comstock Publishing Associates, Ithaca, NY, USA.
Harrison, T. J. E. et al. (2010) ‘Does food supplementation really enhance productivity in breeding birds?’, Oecologia, 164, pp. 311-320.
Jones, D. N., and Reynolds, S. J. (2008) ‘Feeding birds in our towns and cities: A global research opportunity’, Journal of Avian Biology, 39, pp. 265-271.
Marzluff, J. M. (2014) ‘Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers,and Other Wildlife’, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, USA and London, UK.
Reynolds, S. J., Schoech, S. J., and Bowman, R. (2003) ‘Nutritional quality of prebreeding diet influences breeding performance of the Florida scrub-jay’, Oecologia, 134, pp. 308-316.
Shutt, J. D. et al. (2019) ‘The environmental predictors of spatio-temporal variation in the breeding phenology of a passerine bird’, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 286, 20190952.

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