Project proposal details

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Project title
Assessing exposure to extreme climatic events for migrating birds
Contact name
Nathalie Pettorelli
Project based at
Zoological Society of London
Project description
Bird migration - the regular movement of birds and wildlife from one part of the world to another and back again - is one of the wonders of the natural world (Newton 2010). These regular seasonal movement, primarily driven by food availability, are however risky endeavours, with migrating birds experiencing high mortality due to natural predation, hunting by humans or collision with infrastructure (Loss et al. 2014; Pearce-Higgins et al. 2017).

Climate change is expected to impact migration patterns and increase the cost of migration for many bird species. Phenological changes induced by climate change, for example, are known to impact the timing of bird migration (Zaifman et al. 2017). Extreme climatic events such as storms and droughts can also impact migrating birds, with e.g. storms killing instantly hundreds (these events are often referred to as fallouts; Dione et al. 2008) or forcing individuals to make emergency stops during their migration in less than favourable habitats (Dobbs et al. 2009). These extreme climatic events can also affect migrating birds indirectly: droughts and cyclones can for example wipe out critical resources in stopover grounds and breeding grounds, which may have consequences on individual reproductive success (Dobbs et al. 2009). Extreme climatic events are expected to become more common as greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise in the coming decades (Murray et al., 2012). So far, however, little is known about the relative vulnerability of migrating birds to extreme climatic events, hampering our ability to plan for mitigating strategies.

This project will assess the relative exposure to extreme climatic events for migrating birds. Specifically, using globally distributed data for cyclones and droughts as well as information on the breeding ground distribution of migrating birds, it will: (1) de?ne birds with signi?cant exposure as those with an overlap of at least 25% of their breeding ground with areas that have been impacted by either cyclones or droughts in the recent past; and (2) pinpoint those with ?75% overlap as being at the highest exposure. The methodology will follow the approach undertaken by Ameca and colleagues for terrestrial mammals (2013). Identifying species currently experiencing extreme climatic events in their breeding grounds will help to (1) reduce the uncertainty in identifying species least likely to be resilient to future impacts, and (2) complement extinction risk assessments, to better guide management pertaining to climate change and sever weather.

Low, B.W., Yong, D.L., Tan, D.A.V.I.D., Owyong, A.L.A.N. and Chia, A.L.F.R.E.D., 2017. Migratory bird collisions with man-made structures in South-East Asia: a case study from Singapore. BirdingASIA, 27, pp.107-111.
Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Brown, D.J., Douglas, D.J., Alves, J.A., Bellio, M., Bocher, P., Buchanan, G.M., Clay, R.P., Conklin, J., Crockford, N. and Dann, P., 2017. A global threats overview for Numeniini populations: synthesising expert knowledge for a group of declining migratory birds. Bird Conservation International, 27(1), pp.6-34.
Dionne, M., Maurice, C., Gauthier, J. and Shaffer, F., 2008. Impact of Hurricane Wilma on migrating birds: the case of the Chimney Swift. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 120(4), pp.784-793.
Dobbs, R.C., Barrow, W.C., Jeske, C.W., DiMiceli, J., Michot, T.C. and Beck, J.W., 2009. Short-term effects of hurricane disturbance on food availability for migrant songbirds during autumn stopover. Wetlands, 29(1), pp.123-134.
Murray, V. and Ebi, K.L., 2012. IPCC special report on managing the risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaptation (SREX).
Ameca y Juarez et al. (2013) Assessing exposure to extreme climatic events for terrestrial mammals. Conservation Letters 6: 145-153.
Newton (23010) The migration ecology of birds, Elsevier
Zaifman et al. (2017) Shifts in Bird Migration Timing in North American Long-Distance and Short-Distance Migrants Are Associated with Climate Change. International Journal of Zoology, Article ID 6025646, 9 pages
Additional requirements
Good quantitative skills and experience with qGIS+R are required
Available support
The student will have access to the ZSL library and the UCL Library (if necessary) and will be based within the Institute of Zoology where desk space will be allocated. All necessary training to complete this project successfully will be given. There will be a Health and Safety induction for working within the Institute as is standard procedure for visitors. There are no serious health and safety risks involved with this desk-based project.
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Project proposal limitations

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Project length limitations
3.5 months, 5 months