Project Highlights:

  • This project will generate bird movement data in an network of urban trees in unparalleled detail that will be used to generate new predictive models of the significance of tree networks to urban wildlife.
  • The project is interdisciplinary using a range of innovative and state-of-the-art field and experimental methodologies approaches to investigate bird movement ecology.
  • The project provides opportunities to generate policy facing science with the partner organisations and local stakeholders in the field of landscape and urban planning.

Cities are characterised by highly modified and complex habitats comprising a rich mosaic of greenspaces with wooded networks (Fig. 1) supporting diverse wildlife communities. Many ecological concepts (e.g. metapopulations, island biogeography, patch-matrix models) predict that species occurrence is a function of habitat location, quality, matrix structure and the presence of linking habitats (or corridors). Studies of linear features in cities have indicated the importance of tree networks for bat species (Hale et al. 2012) and juvenile birds in their post-natal dispersal (Rosenfeld 2013), but they have also shown that urban infrastructure can reduce movement across network gaps (Hale et al. 2015). Most studies, however, have not focused on the individual dispersal dynamics of the species themselves (LaPoint et al. 2015). This project levers the development on new and lighter GPS technologies to address this shortcoming. In a world where human activity is reducing the average distances moved by animals by up to one third (Tucker et al. 2018) and urban landscapes are densifying due to development (Dallimer et al. 2011), it is evident that more focus is required on understanding: (i) the movement of organisms through the cityscape, and (ii) the nature and permeability of the network and its relationship to gaps caused by urban development that might act as barriers to movement. The principle aim of this project is to assess the ecological significance of wooded city treescapes for avian biodiversity in urban areas.


This project uses equipment being developed by the EPSRC-funded Birmingham Urban Observatory project (https://birminghamurbanobservatory.com/). It will focus on thrushes (common blackbirds Turdus merula, song T. philomelos and mistle thrushes T. viscivorus) breeding in city greenspaces. We will use GPS tags co-developed with Pathtrack Limited to track individual birds. These are lightweight (~3.8g) (Fig. 1), solar-charged, and use remote UHF data download to portable base stations. The project tests that: (i) bird movement and habitat connectivity are enhanced by linked networks of woodland in the city, and (ii) gaps in networks caused by infrastructure (e.g. transport routes, urban infrastructure) reduce network connectivity.

Birds will be captured by mist-netting and the tags used to investigate their movements at the landscape scale. The treescape will be quantified by using remote sensing data and GIS. Statistical analysis will use R packages to explore relationships between network form and type, gap analyses and avian movements. We will develop models predicting avian movement patterns across the cityscape.


Training and Skills

The project combines aspects of avian movement ecology, behavioural ecology, geo and network statistics and outreach. Subject-specific training will be provided in each area within the host/partner institutions. It will include postgraduate level training in using R for the analysis of complex spatial environmental datasets and the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing data (e.g. LiDAR) to capture and depict variability of treescapes in Birmingham. The candidate will also be trained in bird handling, working with city ringers to obtain a British Trust for Ornithology ringing licence, and in the use of GPS technologies to track birds.


Year 1: Project development and DR training (e.g. statistics, bird handling). Data capture using remote sensing datasets (e.g. LiDAR and Sentinel 3) to characterise the urban treescape network, selection of field sites for the tracking work, field trial of tracking equipment.

Year 2: Paper writing. Fieldwork at Birmingham sites. Conference attendance (National).

Year 3: On-going fieldwork, data analysis, modelling, paper- and thesis-writing. Conference attendance (international).

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

Woodland Trust and/or Pathtrack: Possible CASE partners.

Further Details

Further details are available from the supervisory team on request: Prof. Jon Sadler (j.p.sadler@bham.ac.uk), Dr Jim Reynolds (j.reynolds2@bham.ac.uk), Dr Tom Matthews (t.j.matthews@bham.ac.uk).