Start Date: 27/09/2021
End Date: 26/09/2025
Term Time Address:
25 Cotman House, Townshend Estate
St John’s Wood
London, Greater London NW8 6JP
Primary Supervisor: Dr Ryan Felice
Department: Genetics, Evolution and Environment
Secondary Supervisor: Dr John Ewen
Department: Biodiversity and Macroecology Theme
CASE Partner: Zoological Society of London (ZSL)
Type of Organisation Charity
Organisation’s main activities:
ZSL is an international conservation charity containing departments in conservation & policy, research and public engagement through their conservation zoos. As well as being world-renowned for its animal conservation work, ZSL is well connected with other high-profile organisations that it collaborates with frequently. Their zoological collections contain many species of conservation concern that can be used for research to their benefit
CASE Supervisor: Mr Gary Ward
Job Role: Curator of birds
Department: Zoos & Engagement directorate
Technical / Legal Contact
PhD Project Title: Understanding the effects of long-term captivity on the phenotype of extinct-in-the-wild bird species.
PhD Project Description:
With the world’s biodiversity in a state of crisis, ex-situ (captive) care of species is becoming more and more necessary. However, very little is known how keeping species in captivity may affect their potential release back into the wild in future when threats have been mitigated or a new environment has been found for them to be released into. My project aims to understand the effect of long-term captivity on the phenotype of extinct-in-the-wild birds. To do this, I am investigating four of the main stages of the ex-situ conservation process from decline in the wild through to translocation and release.
Firstly, I aim to investigate the traits which might be linked with population declines and chances of recovery using the recently published AVONET database of bird traits along with RedList data. Secondly, I am looking at the effects of captivity itself once species have been isolated within it for many generations, specifically by analysing morphometric changes and changes in reproductive success. Finally, I aim to understand the impact of these on a species once it has returned to the wild, and am hoping to conduct fieldwork to that effect in the next 12 months. Alternatively, my back-up chapter includes using data already collected regarding another species that, although never of extinct-in-the-wild status, was reduced to a very small population and has been translocated since.
The CASE partnership I am applying for will help me to answer questions regarding morphometrics, hatching success and post-release adaptation, for which I will be studying three species more closely. These are the sihek (Guam kingfisher, Todiramphus cinnamominus), Socorro dove (Zenaida graysoni) and Vietnam pheasant (Lophura edwardsi). I am using zoological collections data to investigate egg outcomes and comparing linear morphometric measurements of live, captive individuals to museum specimens to understand morphometric change over time. My results will inform conservation managers regarding the phenotypic traits they may expect modern-day captive populations to express differently to their historical counterparts and help them plan recovery strategies accordingly.
Description of work to be carried out at project partner:
Work conducted at London Zoo will consist mostly of answering questions two and three of my project as follows:
What morphometric changes take place over time spent in captivity?
How does reproductive success change after the bottleneck of captivity?
London Zoo would be an invaluable partner to help me answer these questions for a few reasons. First of all, they have two of my study species in their collection (Z.graysoni and L.edwardsi) and I would be able to gain access to those individuals to take non-invasive linear morphometric measurements when individuals are captured for husbandry checks of enclosure movements. Secondly, access to Gary Ward’s contacts would help my search for data from other collections go much more quickly. These data include morphometrics taken by other collections, as well as egg outcome data that can be used as a measure of reproductive success. Gary is heavily involved with the Vietnam pheasant and Socorro dove recovery programmes and has strong relationships with the studbook holders and other collection managers, so accessing these data would be considerably easier with his support. Thirdly, access to the ZIMS database of zoological specimens can be provided by London Zoo, which would allow me to see any data that already exists for some of these species and would give me a head start in answering these questions.
Finally, the partnership would enable me to spend time with the animal keeping team, specifically head of birds Adrian Walls, which would allow me to learn details of animal husbandry with respect to my study species, disseminate my research and form connections with the ex-situ conservation community. These connections would help me learn several new skills as well as develop knowledge around population management. Collaborating more closely with the keeping team would also allow me to develop my research questions such that they are able to provide the greatest benefit to the actual captive populations I am studying according to the people that know most about them.
Contact will take the form of meetings for Gary, myself and my supervisors as and when they are necessary, but no less frequently than every quarter. The focus of these meetings will be to discuss progress on answering the above research questions, specifically with respect to the species with which Gary is associated, and how any findings can be applied to the species Gary manages within the zoo. Meetings with the animal keeping team would be as and when an individual is available for measurements to be taken.
Total value of contribution in cash: £4000 (annual instalments)
Total value of contribution in kind: £7000
Description of in kind contributions:
Access to a permeant desk-space at the zoo while I carry out the above aspects of the project.
Access to individuals of the study species at the zoo as and when staff think appropriate.
The time and expertise of the staff I will be working with, including Gary, Adrian and the bird team.
Access to Gary and Adrian’s contacts and connections within the bird-keeping world.
Access to ZIMS database to extract data relating to the above questions.