Can we recreate microrefugia to reduce the impact of climate change on threatened birds?

Theme: Biodiversity, Ecology & Conservation

Primary Supervisor:

Patricia Brekke

Evolution and Molecular Ecology Theme, IOZ

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Secondary Supervisor:

David Murrell

Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

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Project Description:

For many threatened species that are endemic to islands, the ability to disperse to more favourable environments or to adapt to changes in climate is limited. Microrefugia, small patches of habitat within a species range that may have more favourable conditions, have been posited as a potential buffer against the impact of climate change. Restoration schemes aim to recreate the structurally complex and heterogenous habitats that enable microrefugia to occur. However, whether habitat restoration can create these valuable climate microrefugia, particularly to benefit species under threat is still unknown. Furthermore, empirical evidence on the value of microrefugia as a buffer against some of the phenological mismatches that result from lack of adaptation to climate change is also limited. This studentship will capitalize on ~ 30 years of bird breeding and ectoparasite data, combined with long-term information on habitat restoration and climatic variables, as well as the development of state-of-the-art microclimate assessments for a population of New Zealand forest passerine, the hihi (Notiomystis cincta), on Tiritiri Mātangi Island. The aim of the PhD will be to test the impact of habitat restoration on (a) the development of hihi breeding microrefugia, (b) the phenological mismatch between timing of breeding and invertebrate abundance, (c) between timing of breeding and ectoparasite occurrence and (d) how these change reproductive success outcomes. The project involves between 2-3 field seasons (approx. 5 months each) for data collection in the North Island of New Zealand and is ideally suited to individuals that enjoy the outdoors. We hope this studentship will not only enable us to produce highly relevant global research on the development of species resilience to climate change, but also directly impact ongoing hihi management strategies to reduce their risk of extinction.

Policy Impact of Research:

This work fits into the NERC ‘climate resilience’ priority area and the global policy agenda around habitat restoration and Nature-based Solutions of the UN.

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