Upland areas of the United Kingdom are at a crossroads for future management. Land used for traditional sporting activities (especially Red grouse shooting), and its associated input to rural economies, is increasingly under the spotlight. The role of such activities in legal predator control, protected species persecution, habitat modification and contribution to climate change are under scrutiny, and the activity faces increased regulation in Scotland. There is, at the same time, a rise in areas under management that can be described as “wildling” (or “rewilding”). Typically, whole estates are managed in a way in which ecological processes take priority over individual species or habitat targets.
These two approaches may affect predator assemblages in different ways. Sporting management may lead to non-tolerance of avian and mammalian meso-predators such as foxes, stoats and crows, with such management associated with higher numbers of some species such as ground-nesting waders1. On wilding estates, predator control will be at a lower level or absent. This project will investigate the relationships and interactions of these contrasting management directions in terms of how they are mediated through predator activity.
There will be a focus on assessing relative activity levels of prey species, especially small mammals. This will involve developing techniques for effective monitoring in remote environments. Specifically, the student will combine a novel camera trapping technique2 with recently developed acoustic identification approaches for small mammals3 to devise optimal sampling strategies. There will be opportunities to tie in with crowd-sourced citizen science classification of camera trap images through MammalWeb4.
Data on year-round prey availability (small mammals) and seasonal prey availability (birds) will be used to investigate predator activity. The following questions will be assessed: do (re)wilding areas support elevated prey resources that sustain predator populations and act as a predator source for adjacent intensively managed (grouse) moors? Or do wilding areas draw predators away from grouse moors, especially when small mammal prey abundance is low5.
Prospective students should have strong ecological field skills, a passion for working in beautiful and remote landscapes, and be able to liaise confidently and sensitively with rural stakeholders.
1. (2019) Ecology and Evolution, 9, 11089–11101.
2. (2021) European Journal of Wildlife Research 67, Article number 12.
3. (2020) British Wildlife, 32, 186-194.
4. (2018) Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation, 4, 361-374
5. (2017) Ibis, 159, 541–553.
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