3 PhD Studentships: Birds in Dynamic Landscape: Aeroecology Along and Beyond The Humber Estuary

University of Hull

To celebrate the University's research successes, the University of Hull is offering a full-time UK/EU PhD Scholarship or International Fees Bursary for candidates applying for each of the following projects.

Closing date: - Thursday 8th February 2018

Studentships will start on 17th September 2018

For further information, email the Research Cluster lead, Dr Alastair Ward A.I.Ward@hull.ac.uk.

Summary of Cluster

The Humber estuary is rich in resident bird life and represents a significant corridor for migratory species. However, it is also a highly dynamic and industrialised landscape thus presents a mix of risks, challenges and benefits to the birds that use it. Conversely, the presence of resident and migratory birds along the estuary raises issues for industrial development and, potentially, human and livestock health. In partnership with the Animal & Plant Health Agency we share an ambition to create a new, vibrant research community with an explicit focus on bird ecology and behaviour in order to answer pure and applied questions regarding the use of the landscape by birds and interactions with human interests. Central to the work programme are three PhD Scholarships, all of which will be underpinned by the deployment of a bird detection radar and mobile laboratory at sites at which birds can be directly observed and sampled.

Summary of PhD Project 1

Machine learning to recognise and identify bird species from radar data

Existing systems for interpreting collected radar data for bird detection rely heavily on human interpretation and annotation. The use of such annotated data can be used to train machine learning software to perform this task. The project will investigate a number of challenges. The radar data gathered are prone to noise and clutter. Filters need to be designed and implemented that remove such noise and discriminate between bird and non-bird moving targets. The use of state-of-the-art deep learning techniques, such as convolutional neural nets and support vector machines, can be used here. Swarm algorithms can then be investigated in an effort to provide species level identification. The use of intelligent interfaces will enable the data, and its interpretations, to be visualised and interrogated. These advances will enable far deeper insight into the radar data, offering greater efficacy and efficiency to the other projects within this cluster and to future bird radar projects. The successful candidate will be a competent numerical scientist with experience of machine learning, excellent skills in programming and at least an interest in bird ecology and behaviour.

Summary of PhD Project 2

Avian influenza risk and surveillance

Avian influenza has recently emerged in GB as a seasonally significant threat to the poultry industry and human health. Current biosecurity and control practices are draconian, being based largely on expert opinion, but with limited evidence of the spatio-temporal distribution of risk. Such knowledge could refine these responses in order to avoid unwarranted restrictions on industry and save unnecessary government expenditure. This project will characterise and quantify the relative risks posed by various species of birds at different times of year to inform a) the national strategy for avian influenza management and control and b) biosecurity best-practice. The onset and duration of bird migration seasons will be monitored using the bird radar to validate direct observation data and to track flock movements. Birds will be captured for viral sampling and a proportion may be fitted with telemetry devices to enable tracking of their individual movements in relation to farms, thus enabling identification of key species of risk and risky behaviours. In partnership with APHA the results will be used to inform the avian influenza surveillance and response strategy. Risks to the poultry industry will be evaluated both using the OIE framework for consistency with Defra policy and a bespoke quantitative approach. The successful candidate will be a competent field ornithologist ideally in possession of at least a bird ringing C permit or likely to be awarded one by September 2018.

Summary of PhD Project 3

Seeing in the dark: nocturnal habitat use and shifting tides

During the winter months, large numbers of wading birds feed on UK estuaries. Predicted models of sea level rise highlight the potential loss of intertidal wader feeding grounds in estuarine areas due to coastal squeeze. Loss of feeding areas may result in further declines in species putatively protected by international conservation legislation. With long winter nights and limited food availability due to tidal constraints, how waders adapt their activity in order to meet energy budgets is little understood. In particular, night-time foraging and movements have yet to be reported. Using radar data and tagged individuals we aim to determine how birds use the estuary at night; what areas they feed on, how often they move, the distance travelled between areas, disturbance rates, and which non-tidal areas are being utilised in the landscape. Nocturnal feeding may become more important during cold periods and waders may utilise non-tidal areas for additional feeding opportunities when tidal areas are inaccessible, so a further novel aspect of this study will be the use of thermal cameras to observe wader foraging behaviour at night. By examining both diurnal and nocturnal behaviour we will better understand site use and will map non-estuarine areas used by a range of different wader species in order to inform theory on adaptive optimal foraging for species with differing ecologies and to inform future management plans for the estuary and bird conservation world-wide. The successful candidate will be a competent field ornithologist with some bird ringing experience.

Applicants should have at least a 2.1 undergraduate degree in Biology/Ecology (projects 2 and 3), or Computer Science/Mathematics (project 1) or related discipline, together with relevant research experience. It is anticipated that the successful applicant will have a 1st class undergraduate degree or Masters level qualification.

To apply for these Scholarships please click on the Apply button below.


Full-time UK/EU PhD Scholarships will include fees at the ‘home/EU' student rate and maintenance (£14,553 in 2017/18) for three years, depending on satisfactory progress.

Full-time International Fee PhD Studentships will include full fees at the International student rate for three years, dependent on satisfactory progress.

PhD students at the University of Hull follow modules for research and transferable skills development and gain a Masters level Certificate, or Diploma, in Research Training, in addition to their research degree.

Successful applicants will be informed of the award as soon as possible and by 2nd April 2018 at the latest.

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