conspecifics | Scholarship for Nigerians and Africans

PhD Studentship in Implications for Seabird Conservation at University of Exeter, UK

We are inviting applications for this PhD studentship to commence October 2011. The studentship will provide an annual stipend of £17,290 for three years. Worldwide, seabirds are one of most threatened groups of birds. Global changes have had profoundly negative impacts on seabirds and their food, which in turn have been linked with wide scale population declines. More than 96% of seabirds nest colonially and theory suggests that group living can improve foraging success, particularly when food is ephemeral. Therefore current declines in colony sizes, coupled with changes in food availability, could have synergistic effects on the ability of seabirds to meet their energetic needs, with subsequent issues for sustainability. Despite this, we still understand little about the role that colonial living plays in seabird foraging ecology.
Theoretically, a key benefit of living as part of a group is improved foraging efficiency, which is believed to have been an important selection pressure shaping the evolution of coloniality. Foraging benefits may arise because; (1) conspecifics transfer information on the whereabouts of food when they return to the colony (the Information Centre Hypothesis), (2) group foraging is beneficial, and colonies provide a source of recruits to the foraging flock (the Recruitment Centre Hypothesis), or (3) individuals are attracted to the presence of food by aggregating conspecifics (local enhancement). Although there is strong empirical and theoretical evidence for information sharing, particularly at some avian communal roosts, our insights into the relevance of information transfer across colonial animals is limited. Understanding the impact of conspecific behaviour on foraging success has clear fundamental implications, but may also have significant conservation relevance. For colonial species reliant upon conspecifics to find particularly patchy, ephemeral or cryptic food, population declines may greatly compromise long term stability. These Allee-type effects may be further exacerbated if prey availability declines to such a degree that some populations are unable to obtain sufficient food to meet their energetic requirements. Assessing the relevance of information transfer for foraging efficiency in a colonial nesting seabird of conservation concern that is experiencing population declines and changes in fish availability is the central theme of this studentship.

Scholarship Application Deadline: 22 May 2011.

Further Scholarship Information and Application