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Social, spatial and environmental drivers of seasonal timing of reproduction

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, January 24, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Studies of the seasonal timing of events have been one of the most clearly documented cases for which a signal of the effects of climate change on biological systems have been detected in recent years. However, most such studies take a broad-scale, population-level approach to understanding these phenomena. This approach often ignores a strong spatial component to these processes, and furthermore for many organisms ignores the potential for strong social effects, due to interactions between individuals. Our understanding of the causes and consequences of responses of seasonal behaviours to environmental change are restricted without understanding the appropriate spatial scale, and social dependence of these behaviours.

This project offers the potential to study all three components in an exceptional long-term study population that represents a model system for understanding responses to climate change. Insectivorous birds – in this case great tits and blue tits – feed their young on a range of insect prey, but particularly depend on the larvae of lepidoptera that themselves feed on the newly emerged leaves of deciduous trees. Synchrony between the different parts of this tri-trophic system has been a subject of considerable research, but almost all of this at large spatial scales and without considering social interactions between individuals. This project will be based on the Wytham tit study, near Oxford, where more than 60 years’ data are available, involving tens of thousands of individual birds studied in a spatially heterogenous environment. In addition, detailed historical data on many aspects of the other trophic levels, as well as climatological data, are available. Preliminary data show that there is strong spatial dependence of many of the key variables and effects in this system. In parallel, the host group has developed a vigorous programme of research into social networks and social processes in this population over the last decade. There is considerable scope for further data collection.

The project will allow the successful candidate to develop skills in (i) field ornithology and ecology; (ii) field experiments; (iii) social network analysis; (iv) spatial ecology and (v) climate modelling, with the balance between these components being developed to fit the successful candidate’s interests.

Funding Notes

The project is funded for four years, from 1 Oct 2020, and funding covers stipend and fees for UK and EU citizens.

Informal inquiries should be directed to Professor Ben Sheldon ()

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How good is research at University of Oxford in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 223.80

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