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Field Assistant Wanted for Summer 2024!
No further applications at this time (Jan 31st)


Graduate student opportunities

We are always keen to consider applications for graduate study within the group.  Most of our graduates are funded through Doctoral Training Centres or Doctoral Training Partnerships at the University of Oxford (such as BBSRC and NERC), or directly via other scholarships advertised through the University or the Department (of Biology).  For details and deadlines, please go directly to their websites.  Below are two specific projects on offer as CASE partnerships.


Environmental Research at Oxford NERC DTP, CASE studentships available: apply directly to the Oxford NERC DTP.

Compass rafting in a colonial seabird: the unknown role of social information

Seabird colonies may function as information centres in which information about widely, patchily, and unpredictably distributed foraging resources is exchanged socially.  However, the scale and function of social information in natural, wild biological systems has been hard to test.  Huge advances in miniature biologging technologies have in recent years greatly improved our understanding of individual long distance movement behaviour, and its ecological drivers, helping to inform marine conservation and fisheries policies around the world.  But individual loggers tell only half the story because they have largely failed to sample the role of social information and decision-making in animals.  In the current project we propose to study this knowledge gap by focussing on the hypothesised phenomenon of “compass rafting” in a colonial seabird, the Manx shearwater.  Shearwaters, like many colonial seabirds, form large collections of individuals at sea before and after making landfall, and spectacular though these collections are their function is not well understood.  In one study of rafting in shags (Weimerskirch et al., 2010), individual tracking combined with coastal surveying demonstrated a possible orientation signalling function, with individuals using the “compass rafts” to identify the best foraging routes out from the colony.  We propose to combine individual biotelemetric tracking, visual marking, and innovative drone surveilance to study the use of rafts by outgoing and returning foragers to our Manx shearwater study colony on Skomer island, where we already have very good background understanding of behaviour and a robust study system and infrastucture. The proposed project would be available to a successful NERC DTP applicant and would incorporate CASE funding and technical support from Animal Dynamics, and would be supervised by Professor Tim Guilford within the OxNav research group in Oxford’s Department of Zoology.


Richards C, Padget O, Guilford T, & Bates AE. (2019) “Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) rafting behaviour revealed by GPS tracking and behavioural observations.” PeerJ 7:e7863. 


Weimerskirch H, Bertrand S, Silva J, Marques JC, Goya E. 2010. Use of social information

in seabirds: compass rafts indicate the heading of food patches. PLOS ONE

5:e9928 DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0009928.

Seabird diets in a changing environment

The CASE partner for this project is MacArthur Green & Dogger Bank Offshore Wind

Many UK seabird populations are declining and our marine ecosystems are failing to meet internationally recognised criteria for “Good Environmental Status (GES)”. UK Government aims to restore UK marine environment to GES and is developing a Seabird Conservation Strategy. Development of marine renewables (particularly offshore wind farms) represents a new and rapidly increasing pressure on seabirds. UK Government is considering the closure of sandeel fisheries either as a measure to recover marine ecosystems to GES or as compensation for impacts of offshore wind on key seabird species. The efficacy of such measures depends on the strength of links between seabird diet and demography. However, understanding of seabird diet is limited to a small number of colonies, to seabird species that are easily studied, and especially to the chick-rearing period. DNA metabarcoding allows the possibility for study of seabird diets throughout the breeding season, potentially outside the breeding season with birds caught at sea, and for a wider range of species and colonies, but has not yet been widely applied to study of UK seabirds.

The key aim is to determine whether DNA metabarcoding can provide information on the diets of UK breeding seabirds that could help to explain temporal and spatial patterns in seabird demography and so identify key drivers of seabird population change. The student will engage in fieldwork at several serabird colonies around the uk, and on several seabird species, with which the supervisors have established research links. The project will be supported by CASE partners MacArthur Green, and environmental consultancy, and Dogger Bank Offshore Wind, developers of the world's largest offshore wind farm and sponsors of several alied research projects invsetgiating seabird biology and conservation. This DPhil studentship will help to inform government conservation policy and will help developers of offshore renewables to gain a better understanding of the ecological needs of seabirds that may be impacted by their industry.


If you are interested in this project, please contact Tim Guilford in the first instance 

Further reading:

Burnell, D., Perkins, A.J., Newton, S.F., Bolton, M., Tierney, T.D. and Dunn, T.E. 2023. Seabirds Count. A census of breeding seabirds in Britain and Ireland (2015-2021). Lynx, Barcelona.

Fayet, A.L., Clucas, G.V., Anker-Nilssen, T., Syposz, M. and Hansen, E.S. 2021. Local prey shortages drive foraging costs and breeding success in a declining seabird, the Atlantic puffin. Journal of Animal Ecology 90: 1152-1164.

Querejeta, M., Lefort, M-C., Bretagnolle, V. and Boyer, S. 2023. Metabarcoding fecal samples to investigate spatiotemporal variation in the diet of the endangered Westland petrel (Procellaria westlandica). Avian Conservation and Ecology 18: 17.

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