Linking landscape structure and population change in migratory birds (GILL_UBIO16EE) Linking landscape structure and population change in migratory birds (GILL_UBIO16EE)

Primary Supervisor: Prof Jenny Gill (

Project Description

Scientific background:

Across Europe, widespread and rapid population declines are currently being reported in many migratory bird species. For example, breeding populations of cuckoo, nightingale and spotted flycatcher in Britain have halved in the last 15 years. The causes of these declines are not understood, and there is an urgent need to identify conservation actions to reverse them. Within the UK, we have previously shown that not all migrant populations are declining, and that resident and migrant populations tend to both be faring better in the same areas. This suggests that changes on the breeding grounds, such as declines in habitat availability resulting from agricultural intensification, may be a primary driver of population trends (in both residents and migrants), but that there may also be additional ‘costs of being migratory’. This study will quantify the influence of local-scale environmental conditions on population trends and demography in migrants and residents across the UK, and explore potential conservation actions to improve breeding conditions for these species.

Research methodology:

The study will make use of census data for a broad range of migratory and resident landbirds in the UK. Field studies will involve bird community censuses and surveys of habitat structure, and may also involve studies of factors influencing local breeding success of migrants and residents.


Students will receive training in field and analytic techniques, including bird censusing, habitat surveying, demographic analyses and modeling population responses to environmental conditions. The student will work alongside a team of RSPB scientists working on the ‘declining migrant bird issue’ (, and will interact withteams of policy and species recovery experts responsible for using the science to underpin polices and action on the ground.

Person specification:

Candidates must have a good Honours degree in a relevant subject area (Ecology, Biology or Environmental Science). Must be keen to undertake computer-based work and fieldwork. Experience of handling large datasets and use of GIS and relevant statistical approaches will be an advantage. Experience of the identification and censusing of breeding bird communities will also be an advantage.


i) Vickery, J. A., Ewing, S. R., Smith, K. W., Pain, D. J., Bairlein, F., Škorpilová, J., & Gregory, R. D. (2014) The decline of Afro‐Palaearctic migrants and an assessment of potential causes.Ibis, 156, 1-22.

ii) Morrison, C. A., Robinson, R. A., Clark, J. A., & Gill, J. A. (2010) Spatial and temporal variation in population trends in a longdistance migratory bird. Diversity and distributions16, 620-627.

iii) Morrison, C. A., Robinson, R. A., Clark, J. A., Risely, K., & Gill, J. A. (2013) Recent population declines in Afro‐Palaearctic migratory birds: the influence of breeding and non‐breeding seasons. Diversity and Distributions, 19, 1051-1058.

iv) Butler, S. J., Boccaccio, L., Gregory, R. D., Vorisek, P., & Norris, K. (2010) Quantifying the impact of land-use change to European farmland bird populations. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment,137, 348-357.

Deadline: 23:59 on Wednesday 6 January 2016

Start date: October 2016
Programme: PhD
Mode of Study: Full Time
Entry Requirements: Acceptable First Degree: Ecology, Biology, Environmental Science, or similar
Minimum Entry Standard: 2:1

For further information and to apply, please visit our website: