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PhD Scholarship - Where no eyes can see: Tracking Australian shorebird migration using radar (UQ/Exeter Joint PhD)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, May 20, 2019
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

More than five million migratory shorebirds visit Australia each year from Asian breeding grounds, where they spend the non-breeding season on wetlands throughout the continent. Studies at the University of Queensland have revealed that most species are declining quickly, and eight have now been listed as nationally threatened as a result. Yet effective monitoring of migratory shorebirds in Australia has proven extremely difficult because many sites are inaccessible in the summer months when the birds are present.

Continental-scale networks of weather radars provide unique opportunities for monitoring of migratory birds over very large scales, and they have been used to great effect in Europe and North America for this purpose. Migrating birds produce characteristic radar signals which can be separated from signals produced by weather, and radar ornithologists have developed methods for classifying and analysing signals produced by birds. In Europe and North America, systems have been put in place to routinely separate and archive these signals, so that migration biologists can use them to study bird migration patterns over very large scales (100s of km) and across multiple seasons and years. Australia has a similar network of weather radars, yet it has never before been used to monitor bird migration.

Weather radars cover the eastern and northern coastlines between Darwin, Cairns, Brisbane and Sydney, and the publicly-accessible archive of usable data stretches back about 5-10 years across this region. These weather radars (which use very similar technology to the European and North American radars) also record huge numbers of migratory birds, but as yet these data represent untapped resources which are filtered by radar meteorologists and discarded. During this PhD study, the student will assess the capability of Australian weather radars to provide the data required for long-term monitoring and quantification of shorebird migration to, from, and around Australia. Specifically, the studentship will tackle the following objectives:

- Use Doppler and Dual-polarised weather radar data from radar stations in eastern and northern Australia to separate and classify the echoes produced by flocks of migrating birds, and produce estimates of shorebird migration traffic rates, flight heights, speeds and directions.
- Validate the bird migration products from the weather radars using field observations at key sites in Australia.
- Compare continental-scale bird migration patterns along the Asian-Australasian Flyway with those in Europe and North America.
- Establish a radar-based migratory shorebird monitoring system that complements and extends on-ground counting.

Funding Notes

This scholarship includes a living stipend of AUD $27,596 (2019) tax free, indexed annually, tuition fees and Overseas Student Health Cover (where applicable). A travel grant of AUD $8,500 per annum, and a training grant of AUD $3,000 are also available over the program.

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