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Habitat adaptation strategies of a protected species: the Mountain hare in Scotland

   College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine

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  Dr S Perez-Espona, Dr F Houston, Dr Laura Glendinning, Dr S Newey  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Supervisors: Dr Sílvia Pérez-Espona, Dr Fiona Houston, Dr Scott Newey (James Hutton Institute) and Dr Laura Glendinning

Land use and climate change will have profound and widespread effects on the distribution of plant communities. Understanding how these changes will affect wild herbivore populations is vital if we are to predict their responses and develop evidence-based management and conservation measures for both herbivores and plant communities.

The Mountain hare (Lepus timidus) is a native and iconic upland species in Scotland that is strongly associated with, and most numerous on, heather moorland habitats. However, mountain hares are widespread and also occur at lower densities in woodlands and other habitats. In response to concerns over their conservation and management, the Mountain hare in Scotland was recently given full protection under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Mountain hares demonstrate an intermediate feeding strategy and switch from a high-quality grass-dominated diet in summer to a low-quality bulk browse-dominated diet in winter. This diet adaptation along with their wide distribution and presence in different habitat types makes mountain hares an ideal model species to study how small herbivores may adapt to habitat change. The project will adopt an interdisciplinary approach and combine genomics and spatial analyses to assess seasonal changes in diet and gut microbiome composition of moorland mountain hares in Scotland. Initially, the project will focus on upland moorland populations, but there is also the potential to study woodland populations to assess changes in diet as woodland matures. Results from this project will provide novel insights into the adaptation of intermediate feeders to their changing habitats. Furthermore, accurate information on mountain hare diet will help inform the conservation and management of populations of this protected species.

Funding Notes

This 3.5 year studentship opportunity is open to UK and international students and provides funding to cover stipend, tuition fees and consumable/travel costs. Applications including a statement of interest and full CV with names and addresses (including email addresses) of two academic referees, should be emailed to [Email Address Removed].
When applying for the studentship please state clearly the project title/s and the supervisor/s in your covering letter.
We would encourage applicants to list up to three projects of interest (ranked 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice) from those listed with a closing date of 4th January 2023 at https://www.ed.ac.uk/roslin/work-study/opportunities/studentships


Hulbert I.A.R., Iason G.R., Mayes R.W. (2001). The flexibility of an intermediate feeder: dietary selection by mountain hares measured using faecal n-alkanes. Oecologia 129 (2): 197-205.
Patton V., Ewald J.A., Smith A.A., Newey S., Iason G.R., Thirgood S.J., Raynor R. (2010). Distribution of mountain hares Lepus timidus in Scotland: results from a questionnaire. Mammal Review 40(4): 313-326.
Muegge B.D., Kuczynski J., Knights D., Clemente J. C., González A., Fontana L., Henrissat B., Knight R., Gordon J.I. (2011). Diet drives convergence in gut microbiome functions across mammalian phylogeny and within humans. Science 332(6032): 970-974.

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