This fully-funded 3-year PhD project (also charity sponsored) will examine key questions surrounding badger behaviour, ecology and disease dynamics using state-of-the-art hand held thermal imaging technology.
The biodiversity crisis in the current “Anthropocene” is manifesting in existential threats to ecosystems and human populations, with loss of species and ecosystem services having profound implications for agriculture, fisheries, water, climate and disease pandemics. Additionally, increased societal concern for animal welfare and rights is driving increasing human-wildlife conflicts that are difficult to resolve. To tackle these complex issues, the role of science and technology is critical in providing evidence for policy, based on objective data gathering designed to be sensitive to all stakeholders.
One major issue globally is that top predators are often missing from ecosystems (e.g. lynx, wolves), leading to “meso-predator release”, such as increased populations of badgers, which may then initate trophic cascading effects (positive/negative) throughout ecosystems. Add to this the complex and unclear role of badgers in bovine TB transmission in cattle and other mammals, and the subsequent costs to agriculture, and we find increasingly polarised views as to badger-related policy. We thus have a seemingly intractable problem with often equivocal research data and hence ill-informed policy.
However, new state-of-the-art hand-held thermal imaging technology offers a timely and fresh way to provide objective data on badger behaviour and ecology, by assessing their interactions with both wildlife and livestock in an entirely non-intrusive way. This project thus aims to use thermal imaging, which can identify individual animals and record their behaviour and wildlife/livestock interactions to video, to resolve increasingly bitter debates on: 1) the positive, neutral and/or negative effects of badgers on other wildlife, such as hedgehogs, bees and ground nesting birds; 2) the direct and indirect interactions of badgers with farming livestock, in terms of proximity and potential disease transmission; and 3) the utility of ostensibly badger-proof farm infrastructure, such as livestock drinkers, feeders and bedding, to help resolve badger-livestock disease dynamics.
This project will blend the wildlife ecology experience of QUB PIs Jaimie Dick and Neil Reid with the premier wildlife group in N. Ireland, Ulster Wildlife, led by CEO Jennifer Fulton. The student will use thermal imaging technology to record badger behaviour, ecology and interactions with other species. Further, a web-site with thermal video uploads will facilitate “citizen science” approaches to data collection and interpretation. This project will thus help resolve debates with respect to badger impacts on other wildlife/livestock and bridge gaps between complex scientific data analyses and observable badger behaviour, leading to agreed conclusions and better informed policy decisions.
Start Date: 1 October 2022
Duration: 3 years
How to apply: Applications must be submitted via https://dap.qub.ac.uk/portal/user/u_login.php
Eligibility: Applicants must have a UK 2.1 Bachelor's degree (or qualifications considered by the University to be equivalent) and must meet the criteria specified in the Funding Notes section. Applicants must also hold a driver's license.