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PhD Studentship on Behavioural Plasticity in Seabirds

Samantha Patrick, October 28, 2014

Lead Supervisor: Dr Samantha Patrick (University of Liverpool) Co-Supervisors: Dr Jonathan Green, Dr Jonathan Sharples (University of Liverpool)

Keywords: Plasticity, personality, foraging behaviour, seabird tracking, oceanographic and habitat modelling

Widespread evidence is mounting that individual animals display consistent behavioural differences, or personalities. Interest is now focussing on the plasticity of these behaviours over time, but such studies require many repeated measures for individuals. The use of biologging devices to study seabird foraging behaviour has generated suitable data sets and the marine environment offers a unique system for such a study, as food availability is patchy but with the degree of predictability varying between ecosystems. This leads to the hypothesis that the emergence of consistency will be driven by the stability of habitats and understanding these behaviours is integral to the individual and population ecology and conservation of marine vertebrates.

Interest in individual differences in behaviour has soared in the last decade, but our ability to capture fine scale foraging behaviour is limited to species which are large enough to carry a GPS. Seabirds have lead the way in tracking studies and as such, some of the best foraging data sets in the world already exist for these species. Using habitat mapping and oceanographic models we can now ask how consistency and plasticity is driven by habitat stability and improve predictions of how seabirds will respond in the rapidly changing marine environment.


• Using tracking data from within and between populations/species, identify consistency within individuals.

• Combine this with oceanographic observations and models to explain why there is variation at the individual, population and species level.

• Use predictive oceanographic models to examine how climate change may alter marine habitats and how seabirds will respond to such changes.

This PhD would suit someone with a background in behavioural and evolutionary ecology, or oceanography and the project will combine field work, spatial modelling and behavioural analyses. The proposed project is eligible for funding under the NERC Doctoral Training Partnership in Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment (ACCE) and full information on the selection procedure can be found at

Applications consisting of a CV, a cover letter explaining why you would like to undertake this PhD and a one page proposal, outlining the ideas and questions you would like to address during it must be sent by email to the lead supervisor (samantha.patrick (AT) before 3rd December 2014. However potential applicants are strongly advised to contact us informally in advance of this date. Please note that this is earlier than the advertised deadline for other ACCE PhDs, as field work commitments will limit contact with the lead supervisor after this time. Late applications can be sent to the co-supervisors ( (AT), who will consider them, but they are likely to be at a disadvantage.