Effect of the environment on little penguins through modifications of fish accessibility?

– PhD adviser: Dr. Claire Saraux (CNRS, UMR IPHC)

– Lab: Département d’Ecologie, Physiologie et Ethologie, IPHC, Strasbourg, France http://www.iphc.cnrs.fr/-DEPE-.html

– Period: October 2022 (not Oct 2021) – September 2025

– Funding: The PhD grant is entirely funded through an ANR project obtained by C. Saraux. The PhD student will be in contract with the CNRS and paid accordingly (for reference, the gross salary in 2021 is 2135€ per month)

– Collaborations and field work: The project will be done in collaboration with Dr. Jonas Hentati-Sundberg (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) and Dr. Andre Chiaradia (Phillip Island Nature Parks) as well as some other researchers on more specific points. It will involve field work in Phillip Island (Australia) unless the COVID pandemic situation prevents it.

Abstract:
Scientists largely agree that climate effects on individuals and populations operate not only directly by modifying individual physiology and behaviour, but also indirectly through changes in habitat or food supply. Yet, the difficulty to monitor the oceans resulting in the absence of data on prey, or in a mismatch between the required and available spatio-temporal resolution of these data, makes it hard to comprehensively study prey-predator interactions and their consequences on population dynamics. In this PhD, the student will develop a holistic approach integrating prey population dynamics within the study of environment-predator relationships in one of the most rapidly changing marine environments on Earth (Bass Strait, Australia), using little penguins as a model system. Theoretical work predicts that seabird life-history traits should respond non-linearly to changes in prey biomass, and key thresholds in prey biomass below which predator populations collapse have previously been identified. Yet, the discrepancy between these thresholds and what is really consumed by seabirds suggests that other processes are at play. This project will test the hypothesis that the key factor to which predators respond is not prey biomass, but prey accessibility. To do so, the student will develop an innovative prey survey method using a sailing drone equipped with an echosounder, providing for the first time a continuous index of prey biomass and spatial distribution at a fine spatio-temporal resolution throughout seabird breeding seasons. Prey accessibility will be defined as the proportion of prey situated within the foraging volume of penguins (estimated through already available GPS and depth data). The student will thus be in charge of the following tasks: 1) define little penguin foraging volumes according to different environmental contexts (based on GPS and depth data accumulated over the last 15 years), 2) map fish spatial distribution all along the breeding season at a fine spatio-temporal scale through the development of a new acoustic survey performed by a sailing drone, 3) model fish habitat, 4) link fish accessibility and little penguin foraging (including foraging performances through foraging trip duration and mass gained at sea obtained with an automated penguin monitoring system, foraging zones and energy expenditure according to biologgers deployed during the acoustic surveys).
Keywords: seabird foraging, habitat modeling, small pelagic fish, acoustic survey, drone

For further details on the subject, contact [email protected]

Candidates: We are looking for highly motivated candidates with a master in ecology with excellent quantitative skills (quantitative ecology and programming) as well as a good English level. Experiences in acoustic signal processing will be highly appreciated.

Applications: Send a resume and a cover letter to [email protected] as soon as possible. Deadline 30th of September 2021.

IN ORDER TO TRAIN THE CANDIDATE TO DIFFERENT TECHNIQUES (drone, acoustic signal processing), EXPERIENCES WILL BE PROPOSED ONE YEAR BEFORE THE START OF THE PhD EITHER THROUGH A MASTER INTERNSHIP or THROUGH AN INTERNSHIP (TO BE DISCUSSED) IF THE CANDIDATE ALREADY HAS A MASTER DEGREE.

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