ASSIGNED Msc/Bsc project: Age-specific offspring provisioning in a long-lived seabird?

coraline-bichetCoraline Bichet
  • 11 Nov '19

Common terns (Sterna hirundo) manage to fledge more offspring as they grow older (Zhang et al 2015 Journal of Animal Ecology), but these offspring have a lower recruitment probability and a lower lifetime reproductive success when they do recruit (Bouwhuis et al 2015 Evolution). In the proposed project, we would like to learn why and assess whether parents perhaps change their provisioning of offspring as they grow older. We would like to know (i) whether the number and/or type of prey brought in changes, and/or (ii) whether the division of these prey across the offspring changes. To find out, we will mark known-aged parents and their offspring for individual recognition and observe their behaviour and growth, respectively. Since such observations have been made since 2015, comparisons cannot only be made within the season, but between years as well.

In general: we work with common terns at a long-term study population located in the Banter See at Wilhelmshaven on the German North Sea coast. In 1992, 101 adult birds were caught and marked with transponders, and since 1992 all locally hatched birds have similarly been marked with a transponder shortly prior to fledging. We use antennae at resting places and around nests to identify both breeding and non-breeding individuals. Combined with 3-times-weekly checks of nests to record reproductive parameters and to mark/monitor offspring, our methods enable the systematic documentation of individual presence and reproductive performance at the colony.

We are searching for a dedicated MSc student who can start in April/May 2020 and who is happy to work in a large international team. Because the common terns in the breeding colony are habituated to research, fieldwork will involve a lot of close interaction with the birds. No prior experience with birds or fieldwork is, however, required. Knowledge of basic statistics (preferably in R) would be useful.

Starting date: April/May 2020 (the exact date is flexible)
Duration: 6 months (also flexible)

For more information and/or application, please contact PD. Dr. Sandra Bouwhuis (, Institute of Avian Research, Wilhelmshaven, Germany.