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How will climate change affect foraging decisions and the evolution of personalities in marine predators?

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  • Full or part time
    Dr J Potts
    Dr S Patrick
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

How will animals find food as their environment changes? In marine environments, animals must search across a seemingly featureless ocean, yet successful strategies have evolved. Although recent technology has uncovered fine-details of movement paths, our ability to infer foraging strategies is under-developed.

In this interdisciplinary project, the successful candidate will use a combination of mathematical modelling and state-of-the-art data on seabirds to understand how animals can efficiently forage (even optimally) when they have limited data on their environment. Like humans, many populations of seabirds consist of individuals with differing “personalities”, each approaching the problem of finding food in slightly different ways. This project will examine why these individual differences in foraging strategies might have evolved, and how those strategies may continue to evolve as their habitat changes. Ultimately, the mathematical and computation tools developed by the successful candidate will help predict the effect of environmental change on apex seabird predators, which are crucial for the regulation of marine ecosystems.

This project is best suited for a graduate with a highly numerical degree (e.g. maths) and a strong interest in ecology, or a biology/ecology graduate with very strong numerical skills. Some familiarity with computer programming is essential.

Funding Notes

Fully funded for a minimum of 3.5 years, studentships cover: (i) a tax-free stipend at the standard Research Council rate (at least £14,553 per annum for 2018-2019), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees at the UK/EU rate. Studentship(s) are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements. Students from EU countries who do not meet residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award.


This PhD project is part of the NERC funded Doctoral Training Partnership “ACCE” (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment https://acce.shef.ac.uk/. ACCE is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, York and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
Selection process: Shortlisting will take place as soon as possible after the closing date, and successful applicants will be notified promptly. Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview to take place at the University of Sheffield the w/c 12th February 2018.

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