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Use of remote sensing to assess welfare and disease in domestic and agricultural animals: effects of environmental and habitat enrichment


   School of Biological Sciences

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  Prof Nikki Marks, Dr D M Scantlebury  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

The project will use remote sensing technology to assess welfare in domestic and agricultural animals. Of particular interest will be identification of specific behaviours and their associated energetic costs. The use of various measures such as environmental enrichment to mitigate stress will be investigated, as will the ability to detect early behavioural indicators of disease.

Remote monitoring of animal behaviour in the environment is both minimally invasive and can assist in managing animal welfare. For example, by identifying early behavioural indicators and activity-related energetic costs, by monitoring potential stress and disease. In addition, beneficial impacts of various manipulations, such as environmental enrichment, can be interrogated. Animal-attached tags such as GPS loggers that record animal locations with high frequency allow researchers to assess both animal behaviour and interactions with the environment. Simultaneous deployment of tri-axial accelerometers and tri-axial magnetometers facilitate further determination of specific behaviours and geo-location. The current study will focus on a range of domestic animals (e.g. dogs and cats) as well as agricultural livestock (e.g. cattle and sheep) to determine what situations and activities may increase or stimulate anxiety, and which activities may ameliorate stress and improve welfare. This research is important not only to understand which situations might be harmful , but also which might improve husbandry, prevent disease - which we know is associated with poor welfare - and, in agricultural systems, improve productivity. 

We aim to: 

(1) determine fine-scale behaviours patterns of a number of focal species

(2) ascertain activity-related energy costs of different behaviours and changes in activity associated with habitat enrichment or improved welfare

(3) assess how disease might be associated with behaviour and how disease risk might be reduced by improved welfare

(4) determine how environmental enrichment can reduce or alleviate behavioural stereotypies and stress hormones

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

Skills/experience required: The candidate should be familiar with data analysis, have a good working knowledge of statistics and be in possession of a full driving licence. In addition, experience of animal handling would be highly desirable.

Note: This project is in competition for DfE funding with a number of other projects. A selection process will determine the strongest candidates across the range of projects, who may then be offered funding for their chosen project.


Funding Notes

Candidates must hold a UK 2.1 Bachelor's degree or qualifications considered to be equivalent by the University.
Candidates must also 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: https://www.economy-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/economy/Postgraduate-studentships-terms-and-conditions.pdf
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