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Population dynamics of the fox in Dorset

Project Description

The project aims to understand how the predation pressure experienced locally by bird species of conservation concern may be determined by the population dynamics of a key predator across a large region.

Studies of declining wading bird populations throughout Europe have typically found that, because of breeding-season predation, productivity is insufficient to replace natural mortality of older birds (Macdonald & Bolton 2008). Several of the predator species such as the fox implicated are generalists that thrive in modern human-dominated landscapes to become disproportionately numerous relative to individual prey species.

The Avon Valley Special Protection Area (14 km2 of river corridor between Salisbury and Christchurch) is a key site for breeding wading birds including lapwing (Birds of Conservation Concern Red List) and redshank (Amber List). Since 2015 an EU-LIFE funded GWCT project Waders for Real (W4R) has stabilised numbers by working with local landowners to improve breeding wader habitat and reduce predation. However, population recovery remains limited by high predation of eggs and chicks. Concentrations of breeding waders within the Avon Valley are now largely restricted to a few estates where considerable effort is put into predator control.
Gamekeepered estates with lethal fox control act as population sinks, but replacement of culled foxes can be extremely rapid, limiting the effectiveness of control (Porteus et al 2019). To improve conservation measures, we need to understand the source of this very high immigration pressure. Large conurbations with associated anthropogenic food resources typically support high fox densities and may act as source populations for neighbouring rural areas. Among 22 gamekeepered estates around England studied by Porteus et al. (2019), the highest estimated replacement rate was just outside Christchurch. Intensive gamebird releasing in some parts of the region may provide another significant resource affecting regional fox dynamics.

The study will increase our understanding of critical ecological relationships within this human-dominated landscape for example by helping determine fox migration sources and the impact of anthropogenic food sources on fox population growth.
The project will have 4 mains objectives:
O1: Investigate the population genetic structure of foxes sampled throughout a large region encompassing the Avon Valley (Dorchester to Southampton, Christchurch to Salisbury).
O2: Identify the broad resource types that contribute most to fox population growth in the encompassing region.
O3: Draw on the results from O1-O2 and on fox movement data obtained in earlier GWCT work by GPS-tagging to parameterise an individual-based population model (IBPM) representing the spatial dynamics of foxes within the region.
O4: Explore the evolutionary implications of genetic differences found between different parts of the region (using data collected in O1-O3).

This highly innovative project will use powerful state-of-the-art technologies to reveal the spatial dynamics of a generalist predator population across a wide region. From this we can infer whether the resources created by human land-uses in some parts of the region affect the natural relationship between native predators and native prey in others. Specifically, its conclusions will help to develop effective management for endangered wading bird populations in the UK and elsewhere.

How to apply:

Applications are made via our website using the Apply Online button below. If you have an enquiry about this project please contact us via the Email NOW button below, however your application will only be processed once you have submitted an application form as opposed to emailing your CV to us.

Candidates for a PhD Studentship should demonstrate outstanding qualities and be motivated to complete a PhD in 4 years and must demonstrate:

• Outstanding academic potential as measured normally by either a 1st class honours degree (or equivalent Grade Point Average (GPA) or a Master’s degree with distinction or equivalent
• An IELTS (Academic) score of 6.5 minimum (with a minimum 6.0 in each component, or equivalent) for candidates for whom English is not their first language and this must be evidenced at point of application.

Applicants are also required to have a driving licence.

Funding Notes

Funded candidates will receive a maintenance grant of £15,225 per year to contribute towards living expenses during the course of your research, as well as a fee waiver for 36 months.

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