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Modelling the drivers of population change in bats

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  • Full or part time
    Dr NJB Isaac
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Monitoring programmes provide valuable data for evaluating the state of biodiversity in the face of rapid environmental change and are vital for the formulation of conservation priorities. Bats are ideal candidates as indicators of habitat quality and climate change as they are globally distributed and provide essential ecosystem services [1]. It is believed that many bats experienced substantial declines during the 20th century [2]. Human disturbance, agricultural practices, urbanisation, climate change and native forest area are hypothesised as important determinants of these changes but quantitative analysis is lacking [3]. The need to survey, monitor and protect bat populations has been recognized for some time, not least in Europe where bats are protected under the EUROBATS agreement. Bats have been monitored systematically in Great Britain since 1996 as part of the National Bat Monitoring Program (NBMP) [4]. The NBMP, created and directed by the Bat Conservation Trust (BCT), engages thousands of citizen scientists across Britain. The NBMP is the largest, longest running systematic bat monitoring programme in the world, producing statistically robust population trends for 11 of the 17 native bat species [5]. NBMP data contributes to the UK Biodiversity Indicators C4a (Status of UK priority species) and C8 (Mammals of the wider countryside: Bats). Data from the NBMP has been used to understand species-specific ecology, but not to investigate the drivers of population trends in space and time. Existing analysis of the NBMP data has revealed that the majority of British bats have increased in abundance or remained stable since 1997 [5]. However, some methodological issues remain unsolved, particularly around the use of roost counts, which are an attractive way for citizen scientists to contribute data but are considered less reliable. It is also unclear how best to combine data from multiple survey techniques, and there is no information about how trends in bat populations vary in space. Solving these issues will further enhance the potential value of the NBMP data for testing hypotheses about biodiversity change.

This project will exploit the potential of the NBMP and the power of modern statistical modelling techniques by addressing the following objectives:
1. Understand if roost counts provide reliable information about bat population change using a combination of statistics, simulations and individual-based modelling..
2. Produce spatial models of bat abundance and how this has changed over time using Bayesian analysis techniques.
3. Reveal whether bat distributions are changing and, if so, why.
4. Reveal the causes of abundance and distribution trends over space and time.

Training and Skills
The project offers extensive training opportunities in covering a broad range of analytical skills including Bayesian statistical techniques for spatio-temporal modelling using citizen science data, as well as transferrable skills including data management, computing, analysis, stakeholder engagement and knowledge exchange. The successful candidate will have a proven aptitude for quantitative analysis.

The objectives have been co-designed with The Bat Conservation Trust and will fill priority evidence gaps identified in a review of BCT’s strategic priorities for the period 2016-2020. The science will also have positive impacts for government agencies responsible for wildlife and biodiversity (e.g. JNCC). It is thus anticipated that the results of this project offer substantial scope for practical impact and will attract much attention.

Logistics & Application
The project will be primarily based at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) in Wallingford. It will be jointly supervised by Dr Nick Isaac at The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Prof Kate Jones at University College London and Dr Katherine Boughey at Bat Conservation Trust.

Applicants for a studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a 2.1 degree or higher. If you have a 2.2 degree, but have also obtained a masters qualification, you are also eligible. Substantial relevant post-graduate experience may also be sufficient, please contact the supervisors for more information.

To apply please send your CV and a covering letter stating your suitability for the project to Dr Nick Isaac ([email protected]) by 5pm on 13 April 2017. Please include contact details of two potential referees.

Funding Notes

This PhD studentship is funded by the NERC Industrial CASE program for 3.5 years. The stipend is set at the RCUK national rate with an anticipated start date of October 2017.

Full studentships (fees and stipend) are only available to UK nationals and other EU nationals that have resided in the UK for three years prior to commencing the studentship. If you are a citizen of an EU member state you will eligible for a fees-only award, and must be able to show at interview that you can support yourself for the duration of the studentship at the RCUK level.

References

1. Jones et al 2009. Endanger Species Res 8, 93–115
2. Racey & Stebbings 1972. Oryx 11, 319
3. Burns et al 2016. PLoS One 11, e0151595
4. http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/nbmp.html
5. Barlow et al 2015. Biol Conserv 182, 14–26

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