PhD Impacts of management and season on the distribution and condition of African mammals- Durham University

Application Deadline: 
16 Jan 2018

Aims: To explore the use of burning as a management tool for African ungulates and other mammals. We will study the intra-annual and inter-annual utilisation of savanna habitats in relation to their spatial configuration, and will monitor the condition of animals using different areas through the seasons.

Methodology: The research will be focused in Mankwe Wildlife Reserve (MWR) and Pilanesberg National Park (PNP) in the Highveld grasslands of South Africa. The student will spend three years collecting data across key periods of the year. At MWR we have detailed annual large mammal data over 23+ years from helicopter surveys. We also have detailed information on burn regime of individual grassland blocks, and mammal off-take information for that period. As the reserve contains no large predators, walked mammal transects can be undertaken with minimum risk. The student will use walked line transects at MWR and will also undertake driven transects for mammals at both MWR and at adjacent PNP; the latter contains abundant large predators. The student will undertake regular transects, in both wet and dry seasons, for large mammals across grasslands burnt in different periods over the last 4-6 years. At MWR, we will also assess the distribution of mammals not regularly recorded on transects using camera traps and indirect measures. In addition, the student will establish roving walk-on mass balances (designed for cattle), in association with salt licks or confined water-points (and IR camera traps), to collect a continual data series of body mass of mammals through the seasons. Body condition will also be available from hunted animals and from game capture events. Data on mammal age classes throughout the year will provide survivorship information, which we will use in conjunction with annual count, off-take and climate data to create both population and condition models. Contrasting animal condition and patch utilisation in areas with and without predators will add to understanding of burn management. Timetable of Activities: The student will split their time between collecting data and conducting preliminary analyses in Africa, and conducting more formal analyses and modelling in Durham. Transects and condition monitoring will be conducted in all years. Analyses will focus on historical data in year 1, animal condition and burn utilisation in year 2, and demographic modelling and optimal management in year 3.

Training Received: The student will be trained in census methods and identification. They will learn to analyse data using R. The staff at MWR will guide the student when in the field. Durham University also offers relevant post-graduate training. S/he will join the Conservation Ecology Group at Durham, a dynamic team including a large cohort of postgraduates (www.conservationecology.org ).

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/).

Application Process: This project is in competition with others for funding, and is aimed at UK and international 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 via the Durham postgraduate webpage.