PhD on Antarctic seabirds

richard-phillipsRichard Phillips
  • 3
  • 22 Apr '21

Title. Living on the ice edge: environmental and anthropogenic factors influencing distribution and demography of Antarctic seabirds

Supervisors. Professor Richard Phillips, Dr Kevin Hughes (BAS), Professor Andrea Manica (Zoology)

Project description. Ice-edge habitats in the Antarctic are important for a diversity of seabirds and marine mammals. This PhD study would examine the distribution, diet, ecology, demography and potential threats to the globally important populations of south polar skuas and Antarctic shags breeding near the British Antarctic Survey research station at Rothera Point (Adelaide Island) and nearby islands in Ryder Bay, Antarctic Peninsula. The aims are to: identify the key characteristics of preferred foraging habitats, and link changes in the environment, including annual changes in sea ice dynamics and local marine productivity, to at-sea distributions and population trends; collect new data on movements and flight heights of skuas and shags to assess collision risk at possible sites for wind-turbine installation; determine the key drivers of changes in breeding and demography of south polar skuas, exploiting data from a long-term study of colour-ringed birds started in 2008, and; build a demographic model to determine future population changes in relation to changing sea-ice conditions and potential impacts of alternative wind-turbine avoidance and collision scenarios. The outputs will contribute to our understanding of the structure of ice-edge food webs, and the impacts of variability and change, particularly annual changes in sea-ice extent and timing. The project will be a key part of the risk assessment for the BAS Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Programme (AIMP).

Practical arrangements and application process. The student would be registered at the University of Cambridge, and be based both at British Antarctic Survey and the Dept. of Zoology from 1 Oct. 2021. Funding has been secured for university fees (at UK home rate) and stipend for 3.5 years, tracking and other equipment, other research costs and training. Two field seasons are anticipated of 3-4 months (Dec. to March) at Rothera Point to collect data on bird trajectories and flight heights using a bird radar and laser rangefinder, and for deployment of remote-download GPS loggers on skuas and shags. In the event that fieldwork is not possible, the project will proceed using existing datasets.

The student will have a desk at BAS and Zoology, so benefiting from facilities, opportunities for training, presentations and interaction with internal and visiting researchers at both institutions. The student will receive extensive training in spatial statistics, manipulation of remotely-sensed environmental datasets, habitat modelling, species identification and track reconstruction from speed, shape etc. in radar data, and demography. They will also be encouraged to apply for relevant external training courses, and attend national and international conferences to develop presentation and networking skills. The student will also have the opportunity to be part of the NERC C-CLEAR DTP for training and cohort activities.

Applicants should possess (or expect to obtain) at least a high 2.1 Class Honours Degree or an MSc. in biology/ecology/GIS/statistics, or equivalent qualification, and have a strong background in ecology and statistics. They also require relevant bird-handling experience and to have, or be able to acquire, a British trust for Ornithology (BTO) ringing license (C-PERMIT) for seabirds before the project starts. The successful applicant will need to be available for pre-deployment training with BAS from 10 Sept. 2021 (i.e. prior to the academic start date of 1 Oct. 2021).

As the student is registered with the University of Cambridge applications must be submitted through the University of Cambridge Postgraduate Admissions portal – course namePhD in Antarctic Studies for Lent Term 2022”. However, note that the start date will be 1st October 2021. Applicants are required to upload a CV, research summary (which appears above), statement of interest and research experience in addition to other information, and the details of two academic referees. There is a fee for applying through the portal and so applicants are advised to contact Richard Phillips ( in the first instance with any questions, including on eligibility and selection criteria. Applications must be made no later 11:59 (UK time) on 14th May 2021. Unfortunately we are unable to consider candidates who do not apply through the University of Cambridge or after the deadline.

As part of our commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion and promoting equality in careers in science, BAS hold an Athena SWAN Bronze Award and have an active Equality, Diversity and Inclusion programme of activity. We welcome applications from all sections of the community. People from ethnic minorities and disabled people are currently under-represented and their applications are particularly welcome. Antarctic deployment involves working in a remote and harsh environment where adaptations to working, living and recreation areas are not achievable to a level that might be expected in the UK. There is a Genuine Occupational Requirement to be physically capable of negotiating rough, icy and snowy terrain as well as being mentally resilient and medically fit.