How does supplemental feeding affect demography and reproductive fitness in endangered bird species on Mauritius?

CASE award with Chester Zoo (GROOMBRIDGE_K20ARIES)

How does supplemental feeding affect demography and reproductive fitness in endangered bird species on Mauritius?

CASE award with Chester Zoo (GROOMBRIDGE_K20ARIES)

Project Description


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

Scientific background:

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.

Research methodology:

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.

Person specification:

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.


  • Ewen, J.G., Walker, L., Canessa, S. and Groombridge, J.J., 2015. Improving supplementary feeding in species conservation. Conservation Biology, 29(2), 341-349.
  • Murray, M.H., Becker, D.J., Hall, R.J. and Hernandez, S.M., 2016. Wildlife health and supplemental feeding: a review and management recommendations. Biological Conservation, 204, pp.163-174.
  • Tollington, S., Ewen, J.G., Newton, J., Tatayah, V., Greenwood, A., Jones, C.G. and Groombridge, J.J., 2019. Individual consumption of supplemental food as a predictor of reproductive performance and viral infection intensity. Journal of Applied Ecology, 56(3), pp.594-603.
  • Moorhouse-Gann, R.J., Dunn, J.C., de Vere, N., Goder, M., Cole, N., Hipperson, H. and Symondson, W.O., 2018. New universal ITS2 primers for high-resolution herbivory analyses using DNA metabarcoding in both tropical and temperate zones. Scientific reports, 8(1), p.8542.
  • Tollington, S., Greenwood, A., Jones, C., Hoeck, P., Tatayah., V., and Groombridge, J. 2015. Long-term monitoring of an endangered parakeet population reveals disproportionate effects of viral outbreak on productivity of supplementary-fed birds but little signal of immune response. Journal of Animal Ecology.84, 969-977

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC Doctoral Training Partnership, and will involve attendance at mandatory training events throughout the course of the PhD.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship - UK and EU nationals who have been resident in the UK for 3 years are eligible for a full award.
  • 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 (see
  • This studentship will start on 1st October 2020, and the closing date for applications is 23:59 on 15th January 2020.
  • Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed on 18/19 February 2020.
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor.
  • Please note that the joint NERC-ESRC ARIES-SeNSS studentship projects have different deadlines and funding arrangements. For full details please visit, or contact

Further Information

Formal internal interviews for this project will be held on 31st January 2020 at the University of Kent

Studentship Open for Applications

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