Linking Landscape Structure to Productivity and Population Change in Migratory Birds


Linking Landscape Structure to Productivity and Population Change in Migratory Birds


Project Description


Dr Simon Butler (School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia) contact me

Professor Jenny Gill (School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia)

Dr Rob Robinson (British Trust for Ornithology)

Dr Cat Morrison (School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia)

Project Background

Many species of Afro-Palaearctic migrants have declined severely in recent decades. Declines have been strongest in species travelling to the humid tropics of sub-Saharan Africa, suggesting that environmental changes in that region may be driving them. However, recent research shows substantial fine-scale variation in population trends, productivity and survival of migrant and resident species on breeding sites across Europe. Furthermore, site-level population trends and mean productivity of residents and sub-Saharan migrants are strongly positively correlated, suggesting that conditions at breeding sites (where migrants and residents co-occur) contribute strongly to migrant population trends. The causes of spatial variation in population trends and productivity are not yet known.

This project aims to identify landscape and environmental factors influencing local trends in abundance and productivity, in order to help guide the development of conservation actions to reverse ongoing population declines. Combining analyses of long-term monitoring data and targeted field studies, the study will address the following objectives:

1. Identify sites at which trends in abundance and productivity of migrants and resident species are either declining or stable/increasing and, for selected target species, sites that have and have not retained local breeding populations.

2. Quantify the landscape structure and environmental characteristics (particularly for features relevant to conservation management) of these sites, using combinations of remote sensing data and field surveys.

3. Construct models to explore the potential demographic impact of changes in landscape structure and environmental conditions that could result from differing types of local conservation action and management


The successful candidate will receive extensive training in the application of ecological principles and concepts to applied issues, including modelling demographic and population consequences of environmental change; exploration and analysis of large-scale, long-term datasets; field data collection skills and techniques, identification and quantification of environmental features relevant to conservation management; and is expected to achieve a high level of competency in statistical modelling.

Person Specification

Candidates will have a degree in biology, ecology, environmental sciences or related subject. Experience of undertaking biodiversity surveys, handling large datasets and familiarity with computer packages such as R and GIS will be an advantage.


  • 1. Morrison, C.A., Robinson, R.A., Butler, S.J., Clark, J.A. & Gill, J.A. (2016) Demographic drivers of decline and recovery in an Afro-Palaearctic migratory bird population. Proc Roy Soc B 283: 20161387
  • 2. Gregory, R.D., Skorpilova, J., Vorisek, P. & Butler, S.J. (2019) An analysis of trends, uncertainty and species selection shows contrasting trends of widespread forests and farmland birds in Europe. Ecol Ind 103: 676-687
  • 3. Morrison, C.A., Robinson, R.A., Clark, J.A. & Gill, J.A. (2013) Recent population declines in Afro-Palaearctic migratory birds: the influence of breeding and non-breeding seasons. Diversity & Distributions 19: 1051-1058.
  • 4. Morrison, C.M., Robinson, R.A., Clark, J.A. & Gill, J.A. (2016) Causes and consequences of spatial variation sex ratios in a declining bird species. Journal of Animal Ecology, 85, 1298-1306.
  • 5. Finch, T., Branston, C., Clewlow, H., Dunning, J., Franco, A. M., Račinskis, E., ... & Butler, S. J. (2019). Context‐dependent conservation of the cavity‐nesting European Roller. Ibis, 161(3), 573-589.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2021. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2021.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£15,285 p.a. for 2020-21) and research funding. For the first time in 2021/22 international applicants (EU and non-EU) will be eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships. Please note ARIES funding does not cover visa costs (including immigration health surcharge) or other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses in the subject area.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside significant relevant non-academic experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship click on the “Apply now” link below.

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