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Tracking the Intractable: biodiversity and agriculture implications of badger populations assessed non-invasively with thermal imaging technology

   School of Biological Sciences

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  Prof J Dick, Dr N Reid  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

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

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.

Funding Notes

This studentship is funded by the Northern Ireland Department for the Economy (DfE) in association with Ulster Wildlife. Includes tuition fees and stipend plus consumables and expenses. There will also be a minimum three-month placement embedded within the industrial partner's organisation.
Candidates must be normally resident in the UK for the three year period prior to 1 October 2022. For non-EU nationals, the main purpose of residence must not have been to receive full-time education. Non-UK or Irish nationals must also have pre-settled or settled status (EU nationals) or settled status (non-EU nationals).
Full eligibility criteria:
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