How do species interactions and the environment combine to shape wildlife communities in the English countryside?

Theme: Biodiversity, Ecology & Conservation

Primary Supervisor:

Marcus Rowcliffe

People, Wildlife and Ecosystems Theme, IOZ

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Secondary Supervisor:

Allan Tucker

Institute of Environment, Health and Societies, Brunel

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Additional Supervisor(s):
Rosie Woodroffe (IOZ)
Chris Carbone (IOZ)

Project Description:

Ecosystems are profoundly affected by predators, not only through direct impacts on prey, but also by altering the behaviour and abundance of competing predators, with cascading effects on other species and the wider environment. Despite a lack of large apex predators in the UK, these processes continue to play out here through the presence of meso-predators, particularly foxes and badgers. Previous research has shown negative correlations between badger and fox populations, and between badger and hedgehog populations. With the widespread implementation of badger culling to control bovine tuberculosis in England, these interactions are currently being disrupted across many parts of the country. At the same time, methods for monitoring and observing these cryptic mammal species have developed radically over the last decade through the introduction of camera trapping and associated analytical methods. These developments present new opportunities to understand the processes driving interactions between carnivorous and insectivorous mammals in the UK, their cascading effects on other species, and how these processes interact with land management to promote or degrade biodiversity more widely.

This project will focus on camera trapping in rural England, alongside the development of cutting-edge computational methods, to:
1) Quantify the abundance of medium-sized terrestrial mammals and birds at multiple spatial scales across gradients of badger abundance created by culling;
2) Link these patterns to metrics of activity and movement to shed light on how co-occurrence in space and time mediates species interactions; and
3) Understand how species interactions and habitat/management interact to shape terrestrial wildlife communities.

Policy Impact of Research:

The outputs of this research will be directly relevant to current debates around badger culling and its wider impact, and more broadly on how rural land use decisions affect wildlife communities in the English countryside.

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