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B311: Incorporating behaviour and habitat preference to improve assessments of the vulnerability of seabirds to fisheries (Lead Supervisor: Richard Phillips, British Antarctic Survey and *CASE* Partner RSPB)

Supervisors: Richard Phillips (British Antarctic Survey), Andrea Manica (Zoology) and Cleo Small (RSPB)

This project is advertised with *CASE* Partner RSPB

Importance of the area of research:

Many seabirds are threatened, particularly albatrosses and petrels because of incidental mortality (bycatch) in longline, trawl and other fisheries. This includes several globally-important populations breeding at the UK Overseas Territory of South Georgia. Based on tracking data and at-sea observations, overlap with, and hence vulnerability to fisheries varies enormously, reflecting the influence of species, sex, age class, season and year etc. on habitat preference and use, and individual differences in behaviour, including relative attraction to vessels. By determining environmental and ecological drivers of distribution patterns, it is possible to greatly improve models of bird distribution and to make predictions for data-poor areas, populations, times of year etc. Predicted bird densities can then be overlapped spatially and temporally with fishing effort data to identify likely areas and fleets with high bycatch rates, on a dynamic basis. Improving assessments of susceptibility to fisheries is essential for effective management and conservation of these highly threatened species.

Project summary:

The project will examine factors affecting patterns of movements and habitat use within and between different species tracked from South Georgia during the breeding and nonbreeding periods, and explore the implications for overlap with fisheries. Analyses will: explore effects of age, sex and other intrinsic characteristics on distribution; examine individual consistency in ship-following behaviour; determine fine-scale interactions between birds and individual vessels (from VMS data); use improved knowledge of habitat preference to identify critical areas of bird-fisheries overlap in the Southern Ocean; examine seasonal changes in vulnerability to fisheries interaction; and, potentially, predict future distribution and overlap with fisheries based on IPCC climate change scenarios.

What the student will do:

The student will apply the latest spatial analyses (GAMs, GLMMs, potentially other Species Distribution Models, movement models) to an exceptionally comprehensive archive of distribution data available for 11 species of albatrosses and petrel during the breeding season at South Georgia. This includes >1200 foraging trips tracked using GPS or satellite-transmitters, usually with concurrent, high-resolution data on saltwater immersion, which provides information on at-sea activity patterns (timing of flights and landings). Most tracks are from individuals of known age, sex and breeding history. Habitat use and preference, and hence distribution will be modelled using a range of satellite remote-sensed environmental datasets, including sea surface temperature (SST), SST anomalies, chlorophyll a concentrations, sea level height anomalies, ice coverage, wind and precipitation. Observed and predicted distributions will be related to data on fishing effort available from national fisheries bodies and Regional Fisheries Management Organisations.

 Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


Jiménez, S., Domingo, A., Brazeiro, A., Defeo, O., Wood, A.G., Froy, H., Xavier, J.C. and Phillips, R.A. (in press) Sex-related variation in the vulnerability of wandering albatrosses to pelagic longline fleets. Animal Conservation. Available at:

Clay, T.A., Manica, A., Ryan, P.G., Silk, J.R.D., Croxall, J.P., Ireland, L. and Phillips, R.A. (2016) Proximate drivers of spatial segregation in non-breeding albatrosses. Scientific Reports 6, 29932.

Tancell, C., Sutherland, W.J and Phillips, R.A. (2016) Marine spatial planning for the conservation of albatrosses and large petrels breeding at South Georgia. Biological Conservation 198, 165-176.

Follow this link to find out about applying for this project. 

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