Integrating climate and species modelling to predict movements of migratory and nomadic birds in sub-Saharan Africa

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of Earth and Environment


Nomadic and migratory bird species are common and widespread in semi-arid regions of the world, including sub-Saharan Africa. However, despite concerted research efforts, little progress has been made in fully understanding and predicting how such species move within and between years, and how they are likely to respond to the changing climate. Being able to do so is particularly important for the red-billed quelea Quelea quelea, a hyper-abundant migratory grain crop pest. Massive, highly variable, outbreaks of migratory crop pests, such as the quelea, are a major threat to food security globally. This is particularly true for the in sub-Saharan Africa, where over 120 million people have their livelihoods affected by such pests.

Given the increased appropriation of wild lands for human use, and impacts of climate change, this is likely to get worse. Migratory species themselves are challenging to manage and predict, not least because their movements and population sizes are often determined by events at some distance from their breeding grounds. Despite ongoing research effort, little progress has been made in predicting (and therefore being able to mitigate for) where and when such damage could occur.

The overall aim of the PhD will be to advance our understanding of how migratory and semi-nomadic species respond to climate change between years, and weather patterns within years. You will do this through developing temporal and spatial models that operate at finer scales than are currently available, which will represent a significant broadly applicable methodological advance.

You will be working with a team of supervisors who have a broad range of skills and interests, including (i) modelling how climate processes and weather affect the location and production of crops; (ii) the distribution of birds under climate change, crop pests (of all types) in sub-Saharan Africa and (iii) the socio-economic impacts of pests on farmer decision making and livelihoods.

The PhD will focus on how climate change might alter crop production and the distribution of a highly damaging pest species. However, there is scope, according to your interests and abilities, to explore different facets of the red-billed quelea-grain-crop interaction, such as the applicability of the migratory connectivity hypothesis for a hyper-abundant agricultural pest species of economic importance. Given the social and economic importance of the species, there would also be scope to focus on crop damage, and associated financial and livelihood impacts, including modelling where and how pest control could be undertaken so that yield losses are minimised for least cost.


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