University of Oxford Featured PhD Programmes
University of Oxford Featured PhD Programmes
University of Oxford Featured PhD Programmes

QUADRAT DTP: Modelling long-distance migrants in the face of environmental change: The case of Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers.


About the Project

This PhD project will focus on modelling the dynamics of two long-distance migrants: the Montagu’s (Circus pygargus) and pallid (Circus macrourus) harrier. Both species breed from Europe to Central Asia and experience high individual heterogeneity in wintering destinations, ranging from West and East Sahelian Africa to South Asia. Although, the two species are related and have similar morphologies, they have contrasting feeding strategies: Montagu’s harrier is a generalist during the breeding season, turning into a specialist during winter; the pallid harrier is a specialist during breeding season, shifting to a more generalist diet during winter. These contrasting traits, together with extensive empirical literature on basic demographic traits and migratory connectivity, means that they are excellent models for studying the influence of spatial or seasonal environmental variation on metapopulation dynamics of long-distance migrants.

Long-distance migrants are experiencing dramatic population declines worldwide. This is partly because they are susceptible to multiple anthropogenic and environmental changes at different stages and locations during their life cycle. Our response to such threats has often been to protect either the species or the habitats they inhabit seasonally. These strategies fail to capture a crucial feature of long-distance migrants’ ecology. Migrants often experience individual heterogeneity in migration which can affect metapopulation connectivity, structure and subsequent dynamics. For instance, within a population, individual birds might choose different migration routes, resulting in different fractions of the population being susceptible to different threats at different times and locations (Reid et al. 2018). Lack of understanding of the factors that influence an individual’s fitness through the entire annual cycle and their covariation is fundamental to ensure their effective conservation efforts (Wilson and Cresswell 2006, Mihoub et al. 2010). Studies aiming to collect and to integrate such information within the same modelling framework remain scarce, thus this project is an exciting opportunity to fill a major gap in the understanding of migratory species.

The project the project can involve theoretical and statistical modelling (including machine learning) and fieldwork (Kazakhstan and/or India) to collect additional information on population parameters with the extent of each to be determined by the student’s specific interests.

The PhD candidate will be working as part of an international collaboration including:
- Ana Payo Payo ( University of Aberdeen
- Thomas Cornulier( University of Aberdeen,
- Paul Caplat ( Queens University and,
supported by in-country collaborators for fieldwork.
This project will allow the student to gain a solid training in theoretical and empirical approaches for understanding behaviour and movement ecology, and population dynamics with applications to wildlife management and conservation.

We are looking for a bright, motivated, and ambitious student enthusiastic about conservation and interested in learning quantitative research approaches including theoretical and statistical modelling.

What can we offer?
We are committed to fostering an inclusive and dynamic working environment. We will equip you with highly demanded transferable skills including coding, theoretical and statistical modelling. We anticipate the PhD project leading to publications in international journals. Moreover, you will develop skills in science communication through a variety of traditional and emerging media.

More project details are available here:

How to apply:

Funding Notes

QUADRAT studentships are open to UK and international candidates (EU and non-EU). Funding will cover UK tuition fees/stipend/research & training support grant only.

Before applying please check full funding and eligibility information: View Website

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