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How does supplemental feeding affect demography and reproductive fitness in endangered bird species on Mauritius?


About This PhD Project

Project Description

Deadline: 7th January 2020
Contact: Professor Jim Groombridge
https://www.kent.ac.uk/anthropology-conservation/people/482/groombridge-jim

Supervisors


• Professor Jim Groombridge (University of Kent, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology)
• Dr John Ewen (Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London)
• Dr Simon Tollington (Chester Zoo)
• Dr Claire Raisin (Chester Zoo)
• Professor Carl Jones (Mauritius Wildlife Foundation/Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust)

Scientific background


An increasing number of threatened species require some form of human intervention in order to persist. A common form of ecological management is to provide supplemental food, often in an effort to increase productivity where natural resources are believed to be limiting population growth. The precise impacts of doing so however, are rarely evaluated and can include unintended negative consequences associated with disease transmission and behavioural adaptations, so encouraging natural foraging is desirable; doing so also has clear benefits when restoring ecological communities. Characterising individual dietary composition can be challenging, but is crucial in order to better target individuals or populations most likely to benefit from provisioning.

Research methodology


The student will analyse dietary composition of two sympatrically occurring endangered bird species in Mauritius; the pink pigeon (Nesoenas mayeri) and Mauritius parakeet (Psittacula echo). Both are offered supplemental food and methods have been developed in this system by the supervisory team to quantify individual consumption by (a) analysing stable isotope signatures of feathers, and (b) using Next-Generation-Sequencing techniques to identify important food plant species. The student will use this information alongside long-term data on reproductive fitness for these individually-marked populations, in order to (i) evaluate the role of supplemental feeding in regulating populations, and (ii) identify important native plant food-sources and associated habitat fragments in this denuded forest ecosystem. This novel approach will tailor supplementary-feeding strategies to enhance population recovery and guide restoration of endemic forests and their ecological function.

Training


The student will develop skills in stable isotope analysis and DNA-metabarcoding, potentially benefiting from NERC facilities (Sheffield/NBAF; East Kilbride/SUERC). They will benefit from field experience with an internationally-recognised conservation initiative. Long-term datasets will be interrogated using generalised linear models in R. The applied nature of CASE partnerships will ensure findings drive evidence-based management resulting in lasting impact.

Person specification


The student will have a degree in a relevant field such as zoology or conservation and be prepared to work in remote and physically challenging conditions, with a small team of international field biologists. They will have excellent interpersonal skills and a capacity to embrace a multicultural environment.

Making an application


This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership:
https://www.aries-dtp.ac.uk/about-us/

Full details on the funding and how to apply can be found on our website;
https://www.kent.ac.uk/scholarships/postgraduate/index.html
Please note: for this project you’ll need to apply for the PhD in Biodiversity Management at the University of Kent: https://www.kent.ac.uk/courses/postgraduate/276/biodiversity-management

There will be a two-stage interview process. The first round of interviews will take place on the 31st January 2020 at the University of Kent. Successful nominees will then participate in the second round of interviews, with the Aries panel, on 18th/19th February 2020 (venue TBC).

References

• Ewen, J.G., Walker, L., Canessa, S. and Groombridge, J.J., 2015. Improving supplementary feeding in species conservation. Conservation Biology, 29(2), 341-349.
• Murray, M.H., Becker, D.J., Hall, R.J. and Hernandez, S.M., 2016. Wildlife health and supplemental feeding: a review and management recommendations. Biological Conservation, 204, pp.163-174.
• Tollington, S., Ewen, J.G., Newton, J., Tatayah, V., Greenwood, A., Jones, C.G. and Groombridge, J.J., 2019. Individual consumption of supplemental food as a predictor of reproductive performance and viral infection intensity. Journal of Applied Ecology, 56(3), pp.594-603.
• Moorhouse-Gann, R.J., Dunn, J.C., de Vere, N., Goder, M., Cole, N., Hipperson, H. and Symondson, W.O., 2018. New universal ITS2 primers for high-resolution herbivory analyses using DNA metabarcoding in both tropical and temperate zones. Scientific reports, 8(1), p.8542.
• Tollington, S., Greenwood, A., Jones, C., Hoeck, P., Tatayah., V., and Groombridge, J. 2015. Long-term monitoring of an endangered parakeet population reveals disproportionate effects of viral outbreak on productivity of supplementary-fed birds but little signal of immune response. Journal of Animal Ecology.84, 969-977

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