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Self-funded MRes – Determinants of bird species distribution over 15 years in four small woods in a lowland arable landscape, UK

Self-funded MRes – Determinants of bird species distribution over 15 years in four small woods in a lowland arable landscape, UK

The study will take place in Cambridgeshire, eastern England, where four remnant patches of ancient woodland that once covered the area lie within ca. 8 km2 in a landscape dominated by intensive arable agriculture. The four woods comprise Riddy Wood (9.4 ha), Lady’s Wood (8.4 ha) Raveley Wood (7.2 ha) and Gamsey Wood (4.9 ha). The woods are broadly similar in tree species composition and structure. The main differences between the four woods are related to their shape, area and growth-stage of the forest, with the vegetation at Lady’s Wood being generally lower than in the other three.

Bird surveys were conducted across each of these four small woods during the springtime of 2000-2015. In addition to this, airborne lidar data, which supply detailed information on woodland structure, are available for all four woods in the following years: 2003, 2005, 2012, 2014 and 2015. It is therefore possible to relate bird species distribution to woodland structural characteristics over a 15 year period, during which time both species presence and abundance has varied.

The research questions to be addressed could be:

1: For selected bird species:

• Are constantly occupied areas similar in structure between the four woods?

• Is there a difference in structure between areas occupied in years when populations are low versus when populations are higher?

• Do the areas occupied in bad weather years correspond with the areas occupied in good weather years (i.e. is there a discernible change in selected habitat according to seasonal weather conditions)?

• Overall, is it possible to determine habitat characteristics selected between years and does this vary with climate or population size?

2: For all bird species:

• How does avian diversity vary across and between the four woods (and what influences this, e.g. structure, distance to edge, wood size, etc)?

• Is there a discernible difference between different measures of diversity (e.g. species count, measures weighted by abundance or rarity)?

• How do biodiversity hotspots vary over time (i.e. are parts of the woods consistently higher in species than others, and if so what characterises them)?

• Is it possible to use the time series species distribution data to ascertain edge vs interior bird species?

In addition to our main entry requirements the applicant for this MRes project must have good bird ecology knowledge in order to interpret the relationships between bird species distributions and forest structure. The candidate will also need GIS skills and be prepared to learn statistics and modelling using software such as SPSS or using R.

Closing date for applications 31 October 2021.

Further reading:

Melin, M., Hill, R.A., Bellamy, P., & Hinsley, S.A. (2019). On bird species diversity and remote sensing – utilizing lidar and hyperspectral data to assess the role of vegetation structure and foliage characteristics as drivers of avian diversity. IEEE - Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing, 12, 2270-2278.

Melin, M., Hinsley, S.A., Broughton, R.K., Bellamy, P., & Hill, R.A. (2018) Living on the edge: utilising lidar data to assess the importance of vegetation structure for avian diversity in fragmented woodlands and their edges. Landscape Ecology, 33, 895-910.