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QUADRAT DTP: Energetics and survival of an apex predator - the African lion - in a rapidly changing environment

Project Description

Within the animal kingdom, certain species are particularly vulnerable to environmental disturbance, with apex predators being a case-in-point. These species’ numbers and distributions are declining globally, with reasons attributed to habitat loss and alteration, and increasing persecution by a burgeoning human population (Ripple et al. 2014). The plasticity of behaviour helps animals respond to environmental challenges (Cahill et al. 2013), but these responses may be pushed to their limits by anthropogenically-driven increasingly extreme climate fluctuations. Specifically, for many large predators, it appears that their behavioural repertoire struggles to cope with current environmental and human-induced stressors, including climate change. Apex predators are presumed to balance their energy books by interspacing resting with energetically costly prey searches and hunts (Scantlebury et al. 2014). However, as climatic conditions change and temperature, rainfall and prey availability become more erratic, their continued presence becomes increasingly tenuous. The current project aims to: (1) investigate variation in behaviour profiles using of state-of-the-art animal-borne sensor and logging techniques, (2) determine daily energy expenditure using the doubly labelled water (DLW) technique which is associated with behaviour profiles and (3) model how climate change will affect species’ ability to cope with future climate conditions. This work will be novel in developing mechanistic models (in contrast to traditionally used correlative models) of climate adaptations, against which future climate change scenarios will be forecast.

The successful applicant will gain experience in use and application of the DLW technique as well as in analyses of energetics data. In addition, the work will involve analyses of behaviour and movement data which will entail handling an expanding range of bio-logging related resources, such as analysis tools, data repositories and large-scale collaborative networks. Measured day-to-day behaviours such as walking, foraging and territory defence will be determined as well as physiological constraints on activity and energy expenditure. In addition, the candidate will gain knowledge in species distribution modelling, which will enable energetic predictions of species distributions to be made under various climate scenarios.

Start date:

1 October 2020


42 months


Candidates should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum of a 2.1 Honours degree in a relevant subject. Applicants with a minimum of a 2.2 Honours degree may be considered providing they have a Distinction at Master’s level.

Application procedure:

• Apply for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast
• State name of the lead supervisor as ‘Name of Proposed Supervisor’ on application
• State ‘QUADRAT DTP’ as Intended Source of Funding
• Select ‘Visit Website’ to apply now

Funding Notes

This project is funded by the NERC QUADRAT-DTP and is available to UK/EU nationals who meet the UKRI eligibility criteria. Please visit View Website for more information.

The studentship provides funding for tuition fees, stipend and a research training and support grant subject to eligibility.


Ripple, W.J. et al. 2014. Science 343:1241484; Cahill, A.E. et al. 2013. Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B. 280: 20121890; Scantlebury, D.M. et al. 2014. Science. 346: 79-81.

How good is research at Queen’s University Belfast in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 24.40

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

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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