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The impact of urban noise on bird song and communication

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  • Full or part time
    Dr I Hartley
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

Humans suffer under the effects of urban traffic noise and there is growing evidence that the world’s wildlife is suffering with us. As part of the European Commission environmental noise directive, the UK government has policy in place to mitigate the growing impact of urban noise on human health, but it still has to design policy with respect to the impact of noise on biodiversity. To that end, Defra recently commissioned a study that concluded that current data tentatively suggest that noise affects wildlife, but also that the data are neither rigorous nor informative on how noise interferes with animals’ behaviour, well-being and individual fitness. This timely project seeks to redress that short-fall.

For birds, road-traffic and other urban noise can interfere with key vocal communications, for example, songs used to attract sexual partners or begging calls given by nestlings to elicit food delivery during parental care. Transmission and perception of acoustic signals could be affected in several ways, but the mechanism underlying the masking effect of urban noise on communication in birds, and how it affects individual fitness, is not well understood. Birds adapt their song to noisy conditions by singing at higher frequencies, presumably to avoid the low rumble of urban noise. However, this only shows that the acoustic structure of the songs has changed, but it is not clear whether the message conveyed in the song also changes and whether there are consequences for communication. This project will establish the main communicative parameters in the songs and calls of a model species, the blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus), and will experimentally test their effectiveness under noisy conditions, thus providing evidence for the underlying mechanism of the impact of urban noise on birds.

Further Information:

Academic Requirements: First-class or 2.1 (Hons) degree, or Masters degree (or equivalent) in an appropriate subject.

Deadline for applications: 14 February 2016

Provisional Interview Date: [tbc] Week Beginning 29 February 2016

Start Date: October 2016

Application process: Please upload a completed application form (download from outlining your background and suitability for this project and a CV at LEC Postgraduate Research Applications,

You also require two references, please send the reference form (download from to your two referees and ask them to email it to Andy Harrod ([Email Address Removed]), Postgraduate Research (PGR) Co-ordinator, Lancaster Environment Centre by the deadline.

Due to the limited time between the closing date and the interview date, it is essential that you ensure references are submitted by the closing date or as soon as possible.

Funding Notes

Full studentships (UK/EU tuition fees and stipend (£14,057 2015/16 [tax free])) for UK/EU students for 3.5 years or full studentships (International tuition fees and stipend (£14,057 2015/16 [tax free])) for International students for 3 years


Smith TB, Harrigan RJ, Kirschel ANG, Buermann W, Saatchi S, Blumstein DT, de Kort SR , and Slabbekoorn H (2013) Predicting Bird Song from space. Evolutionary Applications 6: 865-874
Halfwerk W & Slabbekoorn H (2014) The impact of anthropogenic noise on avian communication and fitness. Avian Urban Ecology. Edited by Diego Gil and Henrik Brumm, Oxford University Press.

How good is research at Lancaster University in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 44.90

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

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