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Using population genetics and scent deposits to inform recovery strategies for a threatened UK mammal

Faculty of Health and Life Science

About the Project

Background: Water voles (Arvicola amphibius) are the largest of Britain’s three native vole species. Although once common, they have disappeared from 94% of their former sites across the UK. One of the UK’s fastest declining mammals, with a dramatic 30% decline in just 10 years (2006-2015), they are a priority conservation species. Habitat loss and predation by invasive American mink are the major causes, requiring urgent conservation efforts to both stop the decline and help populations recover. Increasing population fragmentation erodes genetic variability, leading to inbreeding within small remnant populations. Reintroductions, population augmentation and improved habitat connectivity within and between populations are potential strategies to aid recovery. However, understanding genetic status and distinctiveness of local populations is essential to design appropriate recovery strategies, while also taking vole social and sexual responses into account. Gaining information from fragile populations presents a substantial challenge, requiring the development of noninvasive approaches that minimise disturbance. Faeces and other deposits that voles use for communication provide an excellent opportunity to gain genotypic and phenotypic information that, so far, has been little explored. This project will focus primarily on water voles in Cheshire, in close collaboration with Cheshire Wildlife Trust. Key objectives: 1) Assess genetic variability and degree of inbreeding within remnant populations. 2) Test the negative impact of relatedness and inbreeding on reproductive maturation, survival and productivity. 3) Establish the genetic distinctiveness of Cheshire water voles compared to other regions around the UK. 4) Develop techniques to reliably recover genotypic and phenotypic information non-invasively from faeces and other vole deposits. You will use a combination of field studies and cutting edge molecular approaches to substantially improve the level of information available to guide conservation planning. Findings and recommendations will feed directly into Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s water vole recovery plan.


Notes and how to apply are available here:

Funding Notes

NERC ACCE DTP in Ecology and Evolution, programme starts October 2021.

UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:
• Stipend (2020/21 UKRI rate £15,285)
• Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2020/21 rate £4,407)
• Research support and training grant (RTSG)

Note - UKRI funding only covers UK fees (£4,407 at 2020/2021 rate). A limited number of international fee bursaries will be awarded on a competitive basis. However, if selected International and EU fee rate candidates may need to cover the remaining amount of tuition fees by securing additional funding. International fees for 2020/21 entry were £23,650 per annum.

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