Efficient foraging is critical for central place foragers such as seals and seabirds that provision pups/chicks on land via prey caught at sea. In the Southern Ocean, these species rely on energy rich food patches that also attract top-level predators, many of which use sound to communicate and find prey. The acoustic environment, and in particular underwater vocalizations from whales, seals and perhaps even penguins, may provide abundant cues to guide krill eaters in searching for patches while avoiding their predators and competitors. However, little is known about how marine animals harness this sonic information nor is it known whether noise from shipping and industrial activities may disrupt sound-based foraging. This project will use and further develop cutting-edge tag technology to quantify the sounds produced, and the soundscapes experienced, by individual animals along with their fine-scale behaviour over periods of weeks. The miniature tags record the sounds made and heard by animals along with their position (GPS) and fine-scale body movements (accelerometers) over periods of weeks. A high frequency sonar may also be incorporated to assess prey patch density. Tags will be deployed on seals and penguins over multiple foraging trips to study how soundscapes and biotic environment influence searching behaviour, foraging success and therefore offspring growth.
This PhD project will require you to be involved in all aspects of the research including sensor design and calibration, experiment design and field deployments, and data analysis and interpretation. Given the large complex datasets collected, you will develop computationally efficient analysis tools along with new inferential methods integrating multiple sensor streams. Methods will be developed to describe sound fields, vocalization rates, locomotion effort, and to quantify prey encounter rates and time spent foraging. With this unique combination of data, you will study how animals locate and exploit ephemeral prey patches and transfer these resources to offspring on land, relating this to descriptors of the soundscapes encountered and observations of pup/chick growth. Methods will be evaluated first on captive animals and potential tag effects will be monitored in the field by comparison with control groups of animals radio-tracked with smaller tags. Subject to funding, tags will be deployed on animals breeding on South Georgia or other sub-Antarctic islands.
The PhD is offered under the NEXUSS Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) and will be co-funded by the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology Scotland (MASTS). The NEXUSS CDT (http://www.southampton.ac.uk/nexuss) will provide state-of-the-art, highly experiential training in the application and development of cutting-edge Smart and Autonomous Observing Systems for the environmental sciences, alongside comprehensive personal and professional development. There will be extensive opportunities for students to expand their multi-disciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research and industrial / government / policy partners. The student will be registered at the University of St Andrews, and will share time between St Andrews and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). At St Andrews, the student will work in a multi-disciplinary biologging group and will be trained in tag fabrication, acoustic and movement sensor calibration and interpretation, time series analysis, and computational methods for large data sets. The student will also be part of the MASTS graduate school and will be able to attend selected classes at MASTS partner institutions. Fieldwork will be led by BAS and the student will be trained in handling wild animals, tagging methodology, behavioural assays, and instrument deployment. Subject to funding, fieldwork may be performed in the sub-Antarctic islands and the student will also receive training on field techniques specific to this challenging environment. The student will also receive specific training through the University of St Andrews CAPOD Training Programme. Throughout the PhD, the student will interact with interested stakeholders, and will present the work to both scientific and lay audiences.
This project is inherently multi-disciplinary and will require strong skills in animal biology, foraging ecology, bioacoustics, sensors, instrument design, computational methods and time series analysis. Although candidates are not expected to have skills in all of these fields at the outset, candidates must demonstrate a convincing drive and capacity to acquire skills outside of their field. Accordingly the position is open to outstanding students from biology, oceanography, physics, engineering, maths and computer science. More information on the work performed by the research groups can be found at www.soundtags.org and https://www.bas.ac.uk/team/science-teams/ecosystems/. Informal enquiries may be sent to [email protected]
after January 14th. No research plan is required to apply for this position but candidates must discuss their interest and experience in multi-disciplinary research in a personal statement.
Supervisors: Mark Johnson, Peter Tyack (University of St Andrews), Iain Staniland (British Antarctic Survey)
Eligibility requirements: Minimum upper second-class degree in Biology, Engineering, Oceanography or a related area.
Funding source: NERC and MASTS only available to UK or EU students who meet residency requirements (see http://www.southampton.ac.uk/nexuss).
Duration: 3.5 years.
Funded by NEXUSS, a NERC Centre for Doctoral Training (50%) and MASTS, the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology Scotland (50%). MASTS is funded in turn by the Scottish Funding Council (grant reference HR09011) and contributing institutions.
Funding is competitive and will only be awarded to an outstanding student.
Johnson, M., Aguilar de Soto, N., Madsen, P.T., 2009. Studying the behaviour and sensory ecology of marine mammals using acoustic recording tags. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 395:55-73.
Merchant N, Fristrup K, Johnson M, Tyack P, Witt M, Blondel P, Parks S, 2015. Measuring acoustic habitats. Methods Ecol. Evol., 6:257-265.
Waluda, C. M., Collins, M. A., Black, A. D., Staniland, I. J., & Trathan, P. N., 2010. Linking predator and prey behaviour: contrasts between Antarctic fur seals and macaroni penguins at South Georgia. Marine biology, 157(1), 99-112.