Identifying multi-scale exposure of anthropogenic threats to migratory birds


Identifying multi-scale exposure of anthropogenic threats to migratory birds


Project Description


Aldina Franco (University of East Anglia, School of Environmental Sciences) – Contact me

Adham Aston-Butt, British Trust for Ornithology

James Gilroy, School of Environmental Sciences

Phil Atkinson, British Trust for Ornithology


Project background

Biodiversity is rapidly declining in response to human induced global environmental change. Migratory birds are particularly at risk having experienced large population declines in recent decades(1). The identification of areas where migratory birds have increased mortality risks is key to inform conservation strategies and to develop appropriate mitigation measures(2). This project will collect new data for Greater Spotted Eagle (Aquila clanga) and will combine new and existing GPS tracking data, for a wide range of taxa(5), with environmental change threat layers, obtained from remote sensing datasets(4), to identify threat hotspots across migratory pathways. The results will be used to identify priority areas for conservation and to recommend mitigation measures that will reduce migratory birds’ exposure to anthropogenic threats.

Research Methodology

The project will use existing GPS tracking datasets for 28 migratory species (from and gather new data for a focal model species (Greater Spotted Eagle), to examine exposure to anthropogenic threats(4) across breeding, non-breeding areas and migratory routes in the Afro-Palearctic region. This project will quantify the time birds, with different levels of vulnerability, are exposed to a variety of threats and will examine links to population trends from European wide count data (EBBA2). For select species, it will be possible to examine if breeding success metrics, overall body acceleration information and other migration energy expenditure metrics are influenced by exposure to threats.


The project will use theoretical and practical ecological skills. With the supervisors, in the field, you will be trapping, manipulating and deploying tracking devices on wild animals and will then analyse the animal movement data obtained. You will explore datasets using R, and investigate which threat layers, obtained from remote sensing datasets, most contribute to the decline of migratory species. Together with BTO co-supervisors, you will be identifying and designing practical mitigation actions to reduce threat exposure and to protect migratory species.

Person Specification

You should have a good degree in the life sciences, relevant research experience, and be keen to advance scientific understanding of our natural environment. This project is available to highly numerate candidates. Contact supervisor Aldina Franco for further details:


  • Vickery J. A., et al. (2014) The decline of Afro-Palaearctic migrants and an assessment of potential causes, Ibis 156, 1.
  • VaIi, U., Dombrovski, V., Maciorowski, G., Sellis, U., Ashton-Butt, A. (2021) Spatial and temporal differences in migration strategies among endangered European Greater Spotted Eagles Clanga clanga. Bird Conservation International. 1-14.
  • Wilson, S., Saracco, J.F., Krikun, R. et al. (2018) Drivers of demographic decline across the annual cycle of a threatened migratory bird. Sci Rep 8, 7316.
  • Buchan, C., Franco, A.M.A., Catry, I., et al. Gilroy J.J. (2022) Spatially explicit risk mapping reveals direct anthropogenic impacts on migratory birds. Global Ecology and Biogeography. 1-19.
  • Gauld, J. G., Silva, J.P., Atkinson, P.W. et al. Franco A.M.A. (2022) Hotspots in the grid: Avian sensitivity and vulnerability to collision risk from energy infrastructure interactions in Europe and North Africa. Journal of Applied Ecology.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2023. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 11th January 2023.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£17,668 p.a. for 2022/23) and research funding. International applicants are eligible for fully-funded ARIES studentships including fees. Please note however that ARIES funding does not cover additional costs associated with relocation to, and living in, 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, on top of all Research Costs associated with the project. 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.
  • 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 non-academic experience, and our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past 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 follow the instructions at the bottom of the page or click the 'apply now' link.
  • ARIES is required by our funders to collect Equality and Diversity Information from all of our applicants. The information you provide will be used solely for monitoring and statistical purposes; it will remain confidential, and will be stored on the UEA sharepoint server. Data will not be shared with those involved in making decisions on the award of Studentships, and will have no influence on the success of your application. It will only be shared outside of this group in an anonymised and aggregated form. You will be ask to complete the form by the University to which you apply.

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