QUADRAT DTP: The challenges facing African lions: human and environmental impacts


   School of Biological Sciences

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  Dr D M Scantlebury, Dr C Hambly  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This fully funded, 42-month PhD project is part of the QUADRAT Doctoral Training Partnership.

Climate change and human expansion are progressively affecting ecosystems around the world, contributing to substantial wildlife decline and biodiversity loss. Understanding animal movement is fundamental to elucidate how animals interact with and respond to environmental change. Physiological processes within an animal are key determinants of their energy budget, and therefore affect movement, which in turn affects survival, reproduction and consequently, animal fitness. Understanding the interplay between animal physiology, movement behaviour and the external environment is pivotal, but currently lacking, to predict species resilience under contemporary and future conditions. Recent technological advances in biologging of physiological parameters, tracking movements, examining diet and nutrient uptake, and analysis of hormonal profiles provide opportunities to develop a more mechanistic and physiology-driven understanding of animal-environment interactions.

 Within the animal kingdom, certain species are particularly vulnerable to environmental disturbance, with apex predators being 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 best to environmental challenges (Cahill et al. 2013), but any limits to these responses are being pushed by anthropogenic-driven extreme climate fluctuations. Specifically, it appears that many large predators' behavioural and physiological repertoires cannot cope with current environmental and anthropogenic stressors. Apex predators are presumed to balance their energy and water resources by interspacing resting with energetically costly prey searches and hunts, while avoiding hyperthermia without dehydrating (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 investigate the following in the African lion: (1) behaviour, location and activity energy expenditure profiles and whether these differ with human presence, (2) diet and water use using stable isotope and elemental analysis, (3) stress levels and hormonal profiles, and (4) assess how future climate change may affect population viability and interactions and conflict with humans.

The successful applicant will gain experience in the cross-disciplinary analysis of behaviour, movement ecology, ecotoxicology, hormone and stable isotope analysis. This will involve handling an expanding range of analysis tools, data repositories and large-scale collaborative networks. There will be opportunities to attend courses on species distribution modelling, enabling models of energetic prediction of species distributions to be made.

Candidate Background:

Essential skills: We seek a highly motivated individual who must hold a first or upper second-class undergraduate degree in a biological discipline. Applicants must be competent in data and statistical analysis. The project will involve some fieldwork which will result in large amounts of data (behaviour, movement, energy use). Various analytical methods will be employed to investigate and predict effects of varying environmental circumstance (e.g. seasonal variation, human presence) on animal behaviour and physiology. The student will need to have the capacity to be technically competent in of activity and movement data using various software and visualisation packages (e.g., R, ArcGIS).

Desirable skills: Experience with fieldwork and laboratory skills are highly desirable.

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

We encourage applications from all backgrounds and communities, and are committed to having a diverse, inclusive team.

Informal enquiries are encouraged, please contact Dr Mike Scantlebury ([Email Address Removed]) for further information.

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APPLICATION PROCEDURE:

  • Please visit this page for full application information: How To Apply – QUADRAT
  • Please send your completed application form, along with academic transcripts to [Email Address Removed]
  • Please ensure that two written references from your referees are submitted. It is your responsibility to ensure these are provided, as we will not request references on your behalf.
  • Unfortunately, due to workload constraints, we cannot consider incomplete applications.
  • CV's submitted directly through a FindAPhD enquiry WILL NOT be considered.
  • If you require any additional assistance in submitting your application or have any queries about the application process, please don't hesitate to contact us at [Email Address Removed]

Biological Sciences (4) Environmental Sciences (13) Geography (17) Geology (18) Veterinary Sciences (35)

Funding Notes

This opportunity is open to UK and International students (The proportion of international students appointed through the QUADRAT DTP is capped at 30% by UKRI NERC).
Funding covers:
• A monthly stipend for accommodation and living costs, based on UKRI rates (£18,622 for the 23/24 academic year. Stipend rates for the 24/25 academic year have not been set yet)
• Tuition Fees
• Research and training costs
QUADRAT DTP does not provide funding to cover visa and associated healthcare surcharges for international students.

References

• 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.
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