Background: Despite a relatively good knowledge of the distribution of the world’s birds, our understanding of their population sizes across areas is, at best, fragmentary, and often completely lacking. Moreover, substantial changes to both the distributions and numbers of species are predicted under future climate scenarios, which will have marked effects on the many ecosystems service provisions that birds provide.
Aims: The current project aims to collate data on bird abundances, building on previous projects at Durham (e.g. Stephens et al. 2019), and to use such data alongside other global datasets to model the current abundances and to simulate future abundances and distributions of birds globally. Moreover, as birds provide valuable cultural service provisioning the world over, we will explore the impacts of such changes on cultural services, focussing primarily on changes to the avian acoustic environment (a major contributor to human well-being; Cox et al. 2018) in terrestrial landscapes.
In Durham, we have already explored the use of abundance data in modelling species abundance-environment relationships (Howard et al. 2014; Stephens et al, 2019), and have a database of typical density estimates for a large proportion of the world’s terrestrial birds. In addition, we have expertise in using species distribution models to simulate changing ranges and populations under climate change (e.g. Baker et al. 2015; Stephens et al. 2016, Hof et al. 2019). In this project, we will combine both types of models to project current and future bird communities in different habitat types. We also have worked in recent years with acoustic data and derived indices to understand how the audio environment in an areas changes in relation to environmental and biotic factors (e.g. Bradfer-Lawrence et al. 2019). Here, we will use population and community modelling to recreate soundscapes across the terrestrial world, and will explore the spatial variation in such contemporary soundscapes, incorporating factors affecting the timings of vocalisations. We will similarly recreate soundscapes under scenarios of future climate change to explore where and when avian soundscapes will change markedly in future. To validate our models, we will compare our artificial soundscapes to actual audio recordings from around the world, augmenting available recordings with audio recorders deployed as part of this project.
Timetable In their first year, the student will augment current datasets of species population densities and relative densities, and will work with others in the group using species distribution models to simulate (and test) the abundance of individual bird species. These data will be combined with habitat preference data to simulate (and validate) avian assemblages across the world. In year two, these data will be combined with avian vocalisation data to produce artificial audio recordings for sites, which will be summarised using acoustic indices. In year three, these processes will be extended to future avian assemblages.
Novelty: This work is both novel and timely, and takes advantage of a unique series of datasets, modelling approaches and expertise available in Durham. The modelling approaches we will utilise will provide more realistic projections of changes to populations than are currently available. The changing audio environment across the terrestrial world has never to our knowledge been studied previously, nor have impacts of climate change on the acoustic world.
Student Training: The student will receive training in several key disciplines in contemporary ecology, including field census techniques, acoustic analytical techniques and more generral analytical and modelling techniques, including species distribution and abundance modelling. They will join the Conservation Ecology Group at Durham (www.conservationecology.org), a dynamic team including a large cohort of postgraduate students.
Maintenance Payment to successful student: £14,700 (approx.) p.a. plus tuition fee for 3.5 years (see http://www.dur.ac.uk/science.faculty/postgraduatefunding/
for further details).
Funded by a Chinese Council Scholarship, this project is in competition with others for funding. Success will depend on the quality of applications received, relative to those for competing projects. If you are interested in applying, contact Prof Willis ([email protected]) asap, and by 10th December at latest, with a CV and covering letter, The best applicants will be contacted and encouraged to apply online attaching their CV, covering letter, 2 academic references, and evidence of previous academic qualifications. This scheme requires additional information uploaded, which Prof Willis will advise upon. Further details available at: View Website (from 2018 round) and View Website.
Stephens, et al. (2019) The limits to population density in birds and mammals. Ecology Letters, 22, 654-663; Cox et al. (2018) Covariation in urban birds providing cultural services or disservices and people. J. Applied Ecology, 55, 2308-2319Stephens et al. (2016) Consistent response of bird populations to climate change on two continents. Science, 352 (6281), 84-87; Bradfer-Lawrence et al. (2019) Guidelines for the use of acoustic indices in environmental research. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 10, 1796-1807.