Shifting seabirds – how do wedge-tailed shearwater, Ardenna pacifica, respond to at-sea and on-island pressures in sub-tropical east Australia? | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Shifting seabirds – how do wedge-tailed shearwater, Ardenna pacifica, respond to at-sea and on-island pressures in sub-tropical east Australia?

Application open until filled

Eastern Australia is a rapidly changing oceanic regions in the Southern Hemisphere, with warming temperatures causing a strengthening of the East Australia Current which bringers warmer, and nutrient-poor waters further south as the climate warms. These warming sea surface temperatures are associated with range shifts of marine species, specifically the shift of tropical marine species into subtropical waters and the shift of subtropical species into temperate waters. Among Australian seabirds, the wedge-tailed shearwater, Ardenna pacifica, is one such species that is reported to be declining across the northern extent of its Eastern Australian range, but whether this species is shifting, or declining is not known. In addition to its exposure to rapid warming in its at-sea range impacting upon its prey species, the wedge-tailed shearwater, a philopatric island breeding seabird, is also experiencing changes to its breeding islands. Increases in extreme rainfall events and localized invasion by native and exotic rodents together exert additional pressures on this formerly abundant seabird species. This project aims 1) understand the breeding phenology of wedge-tailed shearwaters across their sub-tropical eastern-Australian range, 2) quantify the impact of extreme temperature, rainfall and on-island pressures such as rodents on breeding success across two or more islands, 3) to examine the long-term trends of adult and chick body condition, and relationships with sea and climatic conditions across more than 20 years of mass records and 4) forecast future population trend on the examined islands using scenario modelling of the impact of different pressures.

Aims/Objectives 

1)  Understand the breeding phenology of wedge-tailed shearwaters at a midpoint in their eastern-Australian range.

2) Quantify the impact of extreme rainfall and on-island pressures (invasive and native species, and people) on breeding success across two or more islands,

3) Examine the long-term trends of adult and chick body condition, and relationships with sea and climatic conditions across more than 20 years of mass records

4) Forecast future population trend on the examined islands using scenario modelling of the impact of different pressures.

 

What are we looking for in a student?

This project will involve a fair amount of field work during the wedge-tailed shearwater summer breeding season, paired with analysis during the non-breeding winter season. Positive collaboration with citizen scientists to aid with parallel data collection will be necessary for the success of this project’s comparison between northern and southern extents of the range, given that the birds will be breeding over the same time period across multiple islands.

Therefore, we are seeking a student with a keen interest in seabirds and field work, who is available to spend up to two weeks at a time in the field during the breeding periods that are important for this study. The busy times in the field will occur during approximately September/October (pre-breeding), mid-November to early Dec (to record egg laying), at hatching (approx. 50-55 days after laying) and at fledging (mid-April to early May). Field work will also occur outside of these times, but can be done with shorter visits of a few nights at a time.

We’re seeking a student with an easy going and accommodating personality to work in the field with volunteers and citizen scientists to collaborate with data collection. A flexible schedule to accommodate the sometimes unpredictable nature of island field work – as the timetable of travel to and from islands may be impacted or delayed by sea conditions, weather conditions, and when birds are most active in a particular year.

We’re also seeking a student reasonable level of quantitative skills and independent learning when it comes to new statistical problems. A student with previous experience using R statistical software, would be ideal as this project involves a good deal of data analysis.

But mostly, we’re looking for someone who is as interested in seabirds as we are!

Eligibility

- Australian or New Zealand citizen (domestic applicant status) 

- Be accepted into a Higher Degrees by Research program at the University of the Sunshine Coast

Selection criteria

Criterion 1: Academic Achievement

Criterion 2: Research Capability

Eligible programs
Doctor of Philosophy
Number available
1
Value

Successful applicants will be awarded a Tuition fee offset scholarship : Value $22,000 p/a. Coverage for 4 years full time, total value $88,000   

Application

For further information or submission of Expressions of Interest send contact to Dr Kathy Townsend ktownse1@usc.edu.au 

Please include: 

1) Cover Letter

2) Current resume/CV