Swansea University Fully Funded PhD Studentship in Biosciences 2017, UK

Publish Date: Jan 20, 2017

Deadline: Feb 10, 2017

Biosciences: Fully Funded PhD Studentship: How does the Weather Affect Flight Costs? Disentangling Habitat, Behaviour and Flight Style

Flight is thought to be one of the most energetically costly of bird activities. These costs matter by virtue of their magnitude, as environmental factors that affect the costs of flight, such as wind1, can have a disproportionate impact on the energy expended by birds. Yet, for most birds, the costs of flight are unlikely to vary as a simple function of the regional conditions. Instead they should be related to; (a) the way that the substrate interacts with atmospheric conditions - producing regions where flight costs are enhanced or reduced (i.e. the ‘energy landscape’2), and (b) the behavioural response to this energy landscape3. Behavioural responses may range from birds selecting flight paths that do not vary with flow conditions (instead reflecting a response to other factors), to birds modulating their flight trajectories, speed and flight mode (flapping versus soaring). 

This project will quantify the energetic consequences of these responses during daily (rather than migratory) movements by combining movement data from free-flying animals with new estimates of flight metabolic rates. The student will use high-resolution GPS and accelerometer loggers to estimate how flight costs vary in relation to weather conditions and habitat type for species with different flight strategies. Pigeons will be used as example of obligate flapping fliers, and there will be opportunities to collect data from corvids as well as seabirds (including gulls in collaboration with Dr Ruedi Nager, Glasgow University). 

The post would suit a student with a strong interest in movement ecology, who wishes to develop expertise in the collection and analysis of high-resolution biotelemetry data. The student will be part of a dynamic research group based at Swansea University. This studentship is paired with another PhD position, to begin at the same time, which will focus on modelling airflows at fine-scales. Both positions are part of an ERC grant on flight costs. Previous experience working with birds/ flight is not a pre-requisite, as training will be provided. Coding skills would be an advantage.


  1. Furness, R. W. & Bryant, D. M. Effect of wind on field metabolic rates of breeding Northern Fulmars. Ecology 77, 1181-1188 (1996).
  2. Shepard, E. L. C. et al. Energy landscapes shape animal movement ecology. Am. Nat. 182, 298-312 (2013).
  3. Shepard, E. L. C., Williamson, C. & Windsor, S. P. Fine scale flight strategies of gulls in urban airflows indicate risk and reward in city living. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 317 (2016).


Candidates must have a first, upper second class honours or a Master's degree, in a relevant discipline.  

Due to funding restrictions, this studentship is open to UK/EU students only. 


Full funding (to cover an annual stipend, full UK/EU tuition fees and research costs) is available for 3.5 years to support a motivated student to gain a PhD. The scholarship is funded by an ERC starting grant awarded to E Shepard (subject to contract completion), and is open to UK/EU candidates only.

How to Apply

Applicants must complete and submit the following documentation by the stated deadline.

To apply for this studentship, please download the research scholarship application form  and return it to the College of Science with the following:

  • Academic References – all scholarship applications require two supporting references to be submitted. Please ensure that your chosen referees are aware of the funding deadline, as their references form a vital part of the evaluation process. Please either include these with your scholarship application or ask your referees to send them directly to science-scholarships@swansea.ac.uk
  • Academic Transcripts and Degree Certificates – academic transcripts and degree certificates must be submitted along with the scholarship application by the funding deadline. We will be using these to verify your academic qualifications.
  • CV – please include a recent CV

Applicants should use the ‘Supplementary Personal Statement’ section of the application form to explain why the award they are applying for particularly matches their skills and experience and how they would choose to develop the project.

Please email the documents to science-scholarships@swansea.ac.uk or post them to:

Recruitment and Marketing Team
College of Science
Wallace Building
Swansea University
Singleton Park
Swansea SA2 8PP

For more information please click "Further Official Information" below.

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