The duration, extent, demographic impact and ecological consequences of hybridisation in a multi-species, seabird hybrid complex.

Theme: Biodiversity, Ecology & Conservation

Primary Supervisor:

Malcolm Nicoll

Behavioural and Population Ecology Theme, IOZ

Malcolm Nicoll's Profile Picture

Secondary Supervisor:

Richard Nichols

School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, QMUL

Richard Nichols's Profile Picture

Additional Supervisor(s):
Ken Norris (Natural History Museum, London)

Project Description:

Hybridisation between closely related avian species has been documented (genetically) in a wide range of taxa and is likely to become more common place in response to anthropogenic activities and climate change as species’ ranges change in response to changing environments. However, understanding the timing and frequency of hybridisation events, let alone the consequences on demographic rates and behaviours, in a population is challenging as it requires a long-term individual-based study spanning many generations. A recent example of hybridisation in seabirds involves the colonisation of Round Island (Mauritius) in the Indian Ocean by at least three species of gadfly (Pterodroma) petrels creating a 3-way hybrid complex. This complex includes P. arminjoniana from the Atlantic Ocean and P. neglecta and P. Heraldica from the Pacific Ocean. These ‘Round Island’ petrels (as they are known locally) have been the focus of a long-term (since 1994) monitoring & research programme, which has not only generated genetic samples for >1200 individuals, but also extensive data on survival, breeding success and migration ecology.

In this project the student will conduct field/lab-based research and use genome-wide SNP-data to create a hidden Markov model classifying the genomes of each individual into blocks originating from each of the three ancestral species. In conjunction with the demographic and migration data sets, this will allow the student to explore a wide range of topics, relating to:
• The extent (timing and frequency) of hybridisation events within the petrel population
• The consequences of hybridisation on petrel demography and migration ecology

Policy Impact of Research:

Opportunities for hybridisation between species are likely to increase in a rapidly changing environment. Understanding the demographic and ecological consequences of this in a multi-species complex will be beneficial to policy makers and conservation managers when considering the long-term viability of species and the role hybridisation may play in this.

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