Prof Jim Groombridge, School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent
Dr John Ewen, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London
Dr Simon Tollington, Chester Zoo
Dr Claire Raisin, Chester Zoo
An increasing number of threatened species require some form of human intervention in order to persist. A common form of ecological management is to provide supplemental food, often in an effort to increase productivity where natural resources are believed to be limiting population growth1. The precise impacts of doing so however, are rarely evaluated and can include unintended negative consequences associated with disease transmission and behavioural adaptations2, so encouraging natural foraging is desirable; doing so also has clear benefits when restoring ecological communities. Characterising individual dietary composition can be challenging, but is crucial in order to better target individuals or populations most likely to benefit from provisioning.
The student will analyse dietary composition of two sympatrically occurring endangered bird species in Mauritius; the pink pigeon (Nesoenas mayeri) and Mauritius parakeet (Psittacula echo). Both are offered supplemental food and methods have been developed in this system by the supervisory team to quantify individual consumption by (a) analysing stable isotope signatures of feathers3, and (b) using Next-Generation-Sequencing techniques to identify important food plant species4. The student will use this information alongside long-term data on reproductive fitness for these individually-marked populations5, in order to (i) evaluate the role of supplemental feeding in regulating populations, and (ii) identify important native plant food-sources and associated habitat fragments in this denuded forest ecosystem. This novel approach will tailor supplementary-feeding strategies to enhance population recovery and guide restoration of endemic forests and their ecological function.
The student will develop skills in stable isotope analysis and DNA-metabarcoding, potentially benefiting from NERC facilities (Sheffield/NBAF; East Kilbride/SUERC). They will benefit from field experience with an internationally-recognised conservation initiative. Long-term datasets will be interrogated using generalised linear models in R. The applied nature of CASE partnerships will ensure findings drive evidence-based management resulting in lasting impact.
The student will have a degree in a relevant field such as zoology or conservation and be prepared to work in remote and physically challenging conditions, with a small team of international field biologists. They will have excellent interpersonal skills and a capacity to embrace a multicultural environment.