PhD Estimating population sizes, and current and future potential extinction risk for the world’s birds- Durham Univeristy

Application Deadline: 
16 Jan 2018

Aims: To collate data on the range extent, density and abundance of the world’s birds, using available and new datasets. To combine these data with trait data to estimate densities and populations for all of the world’s terrestrial birds. To use these estimates with survival and productivity estimates to produce population viability analyses for most of the world’s terrestrial birds, at present and in future.

Methodology: We have already simulated the current and potential future range extent of all of the world’s birds and have spatially explicit density and relative abundance data for most species. This puts us in a unique position to estimate, for the first time, population sizes of all terrestrial birds. We will combine density estimates with data on species distributions, habitat availability and climate suitability to estimate populations, and explore global patterns of avian diversity in detail. We will incorporate dispersal information for individual species into species distribution models, to produce realistic responses to ongoing climate change This will provide an opportunity to evaluate how conservation interventions could maximize species persistence as climate changes. We will use methods developed through a previous collaboration between Cambridge and Durham to estimate the survival of individual species, based on species-traits and environmental data). Using a similar approach, we will use species trait (e.g. body mass, clutch size) and environmental data, to estimate fecundity, and test our approach on species with empirical data. We will incorporate these data into population viability analyses for both the present and future time periods, and assess the changing extinction likelihood of species across the world under climate change. The resultant data could be used to inform IUCN red-listing for bird species.

Timetable of Activities: In year 1, the student will collate information on bird densities and traits, and will estimate global population sizes for species. In year 2, they will estimate survival and productivity, and produce population viability analyses for species. In year 3, they will predict future population sizes of species under scenarios of climate change, and estimate the change in extinction likelihood under scenarios of future change.

Training Received: The student will receive training in several key disciplines in conservation biology, including species distribution modelling, the use of population viability analyses, and projecting impacts of future change on species. S/he will join the Conservation Ecology Group at Durham, a dynamic team including a large cohort of postgraduates (www.conservationecology.org ).

Novelty: The work uses techniques we have been developing over recent years. The outputs will be truly novel and will likely be of great interest to conservation bodies worldwide. The projections could have great utility in conservation planning to adapt to future climate change. Consequently, the work will have the potential to generate high impact publications.

Maintenance Payment to successful student: £13,500 (approx) p.a. plus tuition fee for 3.5 years (see http://www.dur.ac.uk/science.faculty/postgraduatefunding/). The student will also receive an additional £1000 p.a. stipend to cover maintenance associated with spending time with the CASE partner.

Application Process: This project is in competition with others for funding, and is aimed principally at UK students. Success will depend on the quality of applications received, relative to those for competing projects. If you are interested in applying, in the first instance contact Professor Willis (s.g.willis@durham.ac.uk) asap, with a CV and a covering letter, detailing your reasons for applying for the project. Applicants encouraged to formally apply should do so online via www.durham.ac.uk/postgraduate/apply attaching their CV, covering letter, 2 academic references, evidence of previous academic qualifications and, if applicable, the results of English Language tests.

CLOSING DATE FOR APPLICANTS: 16th JANUARY 2018 for all required information to be uploaded via the Durham postgraduate webpage.