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Impacts of offshore wind farms on populations and demography of gannets: reducing uncertainty in risk assessments

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  • Full or part time
    Prof Keith Hamer
    Prof Tim Benton
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

There is an urgent need to understand how offshore wind farms could affect marine biodiversity. This exciting new project will combine advanced demographic analysis and state-of-the-art wildlife tracking to provide critical insight into how mortality through collisions with offshore turbines could affect long-term population viability of a high-profile marine predator of high conservation status in the UK, developing a much-needed framework to assist with consenting decisions for marine renewable energy developments.

A large increase in offshore wind turbine capacity is anticipated in the next decade, raising concerns about possible adverse impacts on birds as a result of mortality caused by collisions with turbine blades. Gannets have been identified as a species of particular concern but there is great uncertainty over the likely consequences of additional mortality for gannet population sizes. You will use a unique combination of demographic modelling, field tracking data and digital aerial survey data to address four aims:

1. Modelling gannet population dynamics.
2. Assessing potential effects of wind farms on stage-specific mortality.
3. Predicting impacts of heightened mortality on population dynamics and viability.
4. Informing advice on policy.

The project is a close collaboration between the University of Leeds and two industrial project partners: (i) Vattenfall Wind Power, one of Europe’s largest producers of electricity and the second largest within offshore wind, and; (ii) MacArthur Green, an Environmental Consultancy with a specialisation in environmental impact assessment in relation to renewable energy development. Results of the project will greatly reduce the current large uncertainty in environmental impact assessments for offshore wind farms, providing direct benefits to developers, licensing authorities and Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies charged with providing informed advice to Government. Greater certainty in impact assessments will also be of benefit to NGOs such as RSPB and a range of other stakeholders including the general public. Outputs from the project will include: (a) specific advice on how different levels of imposed stage-specific mortality would affect gannet population dynamics and colony sizes, and; (a) broadly applicable tools that could be parameterized for other species and in other contexts to reduce the uncertainty associated with planning consent decisions.

Impacts of anthropogenic changes to marine ecosystems on higher predators are an issue of pressing concern (e.g. Cleasby et al 2015a) and we are strongly placed to answer important unresolved questions about how individual foraging strategies are likely to drive population-level responses. This research thus has very strong potential to yield high-impact outputs, building on recent work within this research group (e.g. Wakefield et al 2013). You will work under the supervision of Professor Keith Hamer and Professor Tim Benton within the wildlife telemetry group in the School of Biology, with additional CASE partner supervision provided by Jesper Larsen at Vattenfall Wind Power and Bob Furness at MacArthur Green. This project provides a high level of specialist scientific training in: (i) capturing, handling and deploying a wide range of trackers and loggers on free-living wild birds; (ii) analysis and presentation of tracking data using a wide range of advanced geostatistical and related methods, and; population dynamic analysis and modelling. You will also have access to a broad spectrum of training courses and workshops provided by the School of Biology, from numerical modelling and data analysis using R, through to effective use of social media, managing your degree and preparing for your viva.

Funding Notes

Funding is via a NERC Industrial CASE studentship, which provides a full PhD studentship including a personal stipend at RCUK rates for 4 years and generous support for research costs, fieldwork, conference travel and supervisory visits to each CASE partner.

References

Cleasby IR, Wakefield ED, Bearhop S, Bodey TW, Votier SC, Hamer KC (2015a) Three dimensional tracking of a wide-ranging marine predator: flight heights and vulnerability to offshore wind farms. Journal of Applied Ecology: doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12529
Cleasby I, Wakefield ED, Bodey TW, Davies RD, Partick S, Miller P, Newton J, Votier S, Bearhop S, Hamer KC (2015b) Sexual segregation in a wide-ranging marine predator is a consequence of habitat selection. Marine Ecology Progress Series 518: 1-12 (featured article)
Patrick SC, Bearhop S, Bodey TW, Grecian WJ, Hamer KC, Lee J, Votier SC (2015) Individual seabirds show consistent foraging strategies in response to predictable fisheries discards. Journal of Avian Biology 46: doi: 10.1111/jav.00660
Wakefield ED, Cleasby IR, Bearhop S, Bodey TW, Davies R, Miller PI, Newton J, Votier SC, Hamer KC (2015) Long-term individual foraging site fidelity – why some gannets don’t change their spots. Ecology 96: in press
Wakefield ED, Bodey TW, Bearhop S, Blackburn J, Davies R, Dwyer RG, Green J, Grémillet D, Jackson AL, Jessopp MJ, Kane A, Langston RHW, Lescroël A, Murray S, Le Nuz M, Patrick SC, Péron C, Soanes L, Wanless S, Votier SC, Hamer KC (2013) Space partitioning without territoriality in gannets. Science 341: 68-70
Hamer KC, Humphreys EM, Magalhães MC, Garthe S, Hennicke J, Peters G, Grémillet D, Skov H, Wanless S. (2009) Fine-scale foraging behaviour of a medium-ranging marine predator. Journal of Animal Ecology 78: 880-889

How good is research at University of Leeds in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 60.90

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

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