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How do temperate forests drive avian life-history and population dynamics in a changing environment?

   Department of Earth, Ocean and Ecological Sciences

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  Dr S Patrick, Dr A Hacket-Pain  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Climate change is affecting reproduction throughout ecosystems. A key driver is increased environmental variability, which leads to unprecedented fluctuations in the resources available to organisms. This means that between years, the resources that can invested in growth, reserves and reproduction also varies strongly, leading to changes in reproductive success and survival that can have significant consequences for population dynamics. However, while we understand these patterns in single species, or groups of closely related species, studies that investigate the cascading effects across food webs are lacking. 

In temperate forests many tree species have evolved to switch between bumper ‘mast’ years and years with low seed production. For bird species that rely on seeds during their annual cycle, these peaks and troughs in food abundance affect reproduction and survival. However, our understanding of how environmental variability drives temporal cycles in reproductive performance in trees and avian seed specialists remains rudimentary. This PhD will directly address this knowledge gap and explore the links between forests, birds and climate change,

This project will combine long-term data on tree masting and avian reproduction, survival and population dynamics to: 

1.          Examine how long-term environmental effects drive changes in masting in tree species  

2.          Examine how such environmental variability affects avian biology at these sites 

3.          Use novel statistic methods to link spatio-temporal relationships between the environment, masting and avian life-history  

4.          Use predictive models to forecast how susceptible species and populations are to future environmental change 

This project will be desk and field-based, benefitting from long-term pre-existing data complemented by new field observations. This project is novel and timely as it combines systems where environmental change is hugely important, and yet studies have largely ignored the interplay between them, despite masting driving the resources available for a range of avian species. 

Candidates should hold or expect to gain a minimum of a 2:1 Bachelor Degree, and Masters Degree with Merit/Distinction, or equivalent in biology or ecology. Candidates are encouraged to contact Sam Patrick on: [Email Address Removed], if they have further questions about the project.

To apply for this opportunity, please visit: and click the 'Ready to apply? Apply online.'

Funding Notes

This competitive funded studentship supports 3.5 years of full-time studies, covering UK fees (, annual stipend of £15,843 and a research training support grant of £5000 for the duration of the studies. If you are an international student, you will need to cover the differences in fees.
Shortlisted candidates will have an interview on the 9th of March 2022 (date tbc).
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