Overview

Project Highlights:

  • Study biology of a species of conservation concern
  • Extensive fieldwork in the UK
  • Training in a wide range of advanced ecological analysis tools

Interactions between different environmental factors cause complex changes in ecosystems. Changes in agricultural landscapes in western Europe have driven enormous changes in biodiversity, causing substantial declines and localised extinctions in a wide variety of species.

The brown hare, Lepus europaeus, is one such species that has declined in the UK by perhaps as much as 80% in the past 150 years. Changes in land use associated with agricultural intensification are part of the story, but there is good evidence that these changes interact with predation risk to affect hare numbers. The changes in land use that have had a direct impact on hares have also affected their predators. Hares are still fairly abundant in several regions and so provide an excellent model for understanding ecological interactions between species, their predators and habitats more widely.

This project will use a combination of methods to understand the effects of predation and predation risk on hare distribution, abundance and behaviour at a variety of scales from field to landscape and aim to unpick these effects from differences in land use.

The project will involve intensive fieldwork, ecological modelling, spatial analysis and advanced ecological statistics. It is an excellent opportunity to develop a wealth of field experience in tandem with training and practice in the latest analysis methods in ecology whilst working with some of our most charismatic wildlife.

A brown hare foraging in an agricultural field margin.

Methodology

The project will study hare distribution at within-field, field and landscape scales using direct observation and standard tools for population assessment and relate these to measures of predator presence and abundance.

Field-scale studies will involve manipulating perceived predation risk and assessing hare distribution and behavioural responses, including interactions with land use variables.

A radio-tracking study will assess fine-scale habitat use by hares in relation to field and within-field predation risk.

Training and Skills

You will receive training in statistical analysis, ecological modelling and GIS as well as field methods, which may include radio-tracking, habitat surveys and the study of animal behaviour in the wild.

CENTA students are required to complete 45 days training throughout their PhD including a 10 day placement. In the first year, students will be trained as a single cohort on environmental science, research methods and core skills. Throughout the PhD, training will progress from core skills sets to master classes specific to CENTA research themes. 

Timeline

Year 1: Subject review and core training; Establishment of field sites; Landscape-scale field surveys; Draft review paper on land-use/predation interactions.

Year 2: Detailed field-scale surveys at key sites; Manipulative studies of predation risk; Commence radio-tracking. Draft paper on scale-dependent effects of predation risk.

Year 3: Repeat field-scale surveys; Detailed behavioural study; Contribute to international conference; Complete thesis.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

The project involves collaboration with specialists in wildlife biology at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Swansea University and at the UK’s National Wildlife Management Centre.

Further Details

Students should have a strong background in ecology with proven field experience. A full driving licence prior to commencing the project is essential. Evidence of ability in statistical analysis and GIS would be a bonus. Above all students should display an enthusiasm for learning new methods, quantitative ecology, the rigours of fieldwork and integrating ideas between disciplines. The student will join a well-established group researching a wide range of questions in conservation ecology at the Open University.

Please contact Dr Phil Wheeler philip.wheeler@open.ac.uk for further information.

Applications should include:

Applications should be sent to

STEM-EEES-PhD-Student-Recruitment@open.ac.uk  

by 5 pm on 25th January 2017