Multi-species demographic modelling to examine competition and environmental drivers in Mauritian seabird dynamics

Theme: Biodiversity, Ecology & Conservation

Primary Supervisor:

Malcolm Nicoll

Behavioural and Population Ecology Theme, IOZ

Malcolm Nicoll's Profile Picture

Secondary Supervisor:

Catharine Horswill

Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

Catharine Horswill's Profile Picture

Additional Supervisor(s):
David Murrell (UCL)

Project Description:

Studies examining how species respond to environmental fluctuations typically consider a single population in isolation. However, species exist within the context of communities and ecosystems, and populations of different species that are sympatric are linked through interspecific interactions, such as competition and predation, as well as their common environment. Some species may react in a similar way to environmental fluctuations, whilst others may have developed species-specific strategies that result in contrasting responses. In this latter event, environmental change could thus alter the strength of interspecific interactions, leading to changes in community structure and dynamics.

In this project the student will use demographic and population modelling approaches to disentangle the relative roles of environmental conditions and interspecific interactions in driving the population dynamics of two sympatric species of seabird breeding on Round Island, Mauritius; red-tailed tropic birds and Round Island petrels. Understanding the relative roles of environmental change and interspecific interactions in driving population trends could help target conservation efforts.

This project will:
• Quantify synchrony in rates of survival and breeding success to examine how species respond to environmental fluctuations;
• Relate annual variation in demographic rates to environmental drivers;
• Examine the relative contribution of environmental changes and species interactions to the population dynamics of these sympatric species.

Policy Impact of Research:

Seabirds are highly threatened, and the protection and restoration of their breeding colonies is a conservation priority. Round Island is subject to a long-term ecosystem restoration programme and as part of this the research will provide evidence to guide the restoration of this regionally important seabird colony.

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