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Identifying the mechanisms linking savannah degradation and bird distribution change

Project Description

Degradation of savannahs threatens both biodiversity and pastoralist
communities who depend on them. Some 15% of northern Tanzanian savannahs
show evidence of serious degradation due to altered grazing and rainfall
patterns. We have previously shown that local extinctions of birds in Tanzania
are commonest in degraded landscapes suggesting birds may be a useful index
of degradation, but we do not know the mechanism that drives such declines
across multiple guilds. We hypothesise that they are mediated through changes
in grass quality and invertebrate populations and this project is set to test these
We have recently used remote sensing to map degradation across Northern
Tanzania and have started experimental trials involving grazing and fire
management to restore missing ecological processes in degraded landscapes of
northern TZ. This work provides a background resource upon which the current
project has been built. To undertake the work will require uses remote sensing,
field and laboratory experiments to identify the mechanisms linking degradation
to bird population declines and to assess whether bird populations indicate
savannah health.
Specifically, we will test the hypotheses that:
Savannah bird populations and communities are associated with vegetation
structure and quality, and invertebrate abundance and community.
Grass quality and quantity is altered by grazing and fire management.
Insect herbivore populations respond rapidly to these changes, driving changes
in bird abundance and distribution.
To test these hypotheses, the student will gain skills in analysing remotely
sensed data to identify degrading landscapes, will gain field experience
surveying birds, invertebrates and vegetation across northern Tanzania
(including within our experimental management plots) and will under lab work
to quantify vegetation quality. Analysing these data will involve detailed
statistical analyses, including machine learning and spatial analysis alongside
modern statistical methods.
The student will be based in the Biology Department at the University of York, in
research groups with an active programme of post-graduate research in African
savannah ecology and in plant-invertebrate interactions, with regular fieldwork
at established sites in northern Tanzania.

Funding Notes

This is a 3.5 year fully-funded studentship part of the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership in Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment (ACCE). The studentship covers: (i) a tax-free stipend at the standard Research Council rate (around £15,000 per year), (ii) tuition fees at UK/EU rate, (iii) research consumables and training necessary for the project.

Entry requirements: At least an upper second class honours degree, or equivalent in any relevant subject that provides the necessary skills, knowledge and experience for the DTP, including environmental, biological, chemical, mathematical, physical and social sciences.


Eligibility: The studentships are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements. Students from EU countries who do not meet the residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award. Further information about eligibility for Research Council UK funding

Shortlisting: Applicants will be notified if they have been selected for interview in the week commencing on Monday 28 January 2019.

Interviews: Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview to take place in the Department of Biology at the University of York in the week beginning 11 February 2019 (or the following week). Prior to the interview candidates will be asked to give a 5 minute presentation on a research project carried out by them.

How good is research at University of York in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.37

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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