PhD opportunity: Movement and migration of Latham’s Snipe

Institution: 
Australian National University
Location: 
Canberra
Country: 
Australia
Apply By (date): 
Friday, October 8, 2021 - 00:00

Do you have a strong interest in migratory shorebird conservation? Would you like to obtain skills in bird capture and tracking studies? We are seeking a dedicated, passionate and high-quality PhD applicant to work with a team of ecologists and citizen scientists running a national research and monitoring program on Latham’s Snipe.
 

About the project

Latham’s Snipe Gallinago hardwickii is one of 37 migratory shorebird species listed under the Environment Protection & Biodiversity Act as matters of national environment significance. Latham’s Snipe breeds in northern Japan during the austral winter and migrates to south-eastern Australia in July-September, where they spend their non-breeding season dispersed across the landscape, usually in shallow vegetated wetlands. Latham’s Snipe is a highly cryptic species and knowledge about its behaviour and habitat requirements is relatively poor compared to other migratory species. This dearth of information means that the species is generally overlooked in shorebird conservation.

Latham’s Snipe is the only migratory shorebird occurring in significant numbers in the ACT and is therefore a priority under the ACT Migratory Bird Action Plan. There are only three sites that support nationally significant numbers of Latham’s Snipe, and elsewhere most snipe occur in low numbers in urban wetlands afforded no formal protection. This presents challenges for the conservation of snipe and their habitat in the ACT (and elsewhere).

Latham’s Snipe typically roost during the day in thickly vegetated shallow freshwater wetlands. At dusk, they depart these wetlands to forage elsewhere and return to their daytime roost sites before dawn. Previous tracking trials on Latham’s Snipe has revealed distinctively different habitat use at night time compared to day time. Where day time roosting sites occur in urban areas, this places potential constraints on snipe in terms of finding adequate foraging areas.

 

This PhD project will address the following questions:

  • To what extent do individual snipe move between different wetlands within Canberra during the non-breeding season?
  • What are the key migration stopover sites between ACT and Japan?
  • What are the key characteristics of non-breeding and stopover habitat?
  • Where are important night time foraging sites for snipe?
  • What is the relative abundance and distribution of snipe in urban versus alpine habitats with the ACT
  • Where are the priority areas for snipe habitat protection in the ACT and eastern Australia?

This project will use GPS tracking to determine migration pathways and key stopover (staging) sites in eastern Australia for snipe that spend the non-breeding season in Canberra. Finer-scale tracking will also be used to determine habitat use of snipe in Canberra during the non-breeding period (October to February). Information obtained through the tracking will be used to determine important non-breeding and migration staging sites, the key characteristics of habitat at these sites, and how individual birds respond to changes in land use and other disturbance.

In addition to understanding movement patterns by snipe within Canberra, this project will also make an assessment of the relative abundance and distribution of snipe in urban ACT compared to alpine areas. Latham’s Snipe are known to make use of highland and alpine areas, and records from the ACT and NSW alpine areas suggests that snipe present in low densities throughout summer. However, very little is known about alpine populations and the way in which snipe use alpine habitats.

There are three main components to the research:

  1. GPS tracking of individual snipe over two years and analysis of movement data in relation to landscape features like land use.
  2. Assessment of wetland habitat characteristics identified both through the tracking and through previous research.
  3. Structured surveys of snipe in alpine and urban areas over two non-breeding seasons.

The successful candidate will work with a team of researchers and citizen scientists at Australian National University and Federation University, the Canberra Ornithologists Group, the Woodlands and Wetlands Trust, and members of the Latham’s Snipe Project to undertake this field- and desk-based research. The project will be supervised by the leading Latham’s Snipe expert, and researchers and practitioners in movement ecology and conservation management. The candidate will obtain skills in animal tracking technologies, desktop and web GIS, spatial and statistical analyses, conservation prioritisation and multi-stakeholder engagement (government, community and industry). Successful applicants will be co-located across the Fenner School of Environment and Society at ANU, and the Centre for eResearch and Digital Innovation at Federation University.
 

Eligibility

This scholarship is available to potential or current students who:

  • Are domestic students; 
  • Have successfully obtained an offer of admission to a PhD program; 
  • Have successfully obtained an offer of an ANU approved base stipend scholarship. 
     

How to apply

Interested individuals are invited to submit an expression of interest to both Prof Adrian Manning (adrian.manning@anu.edu.au) and Dr Birgita Hansen (b.hansen@federation.edu.au) by 8 October 2021 stating their interests and ideas for a proposal, detailing their experience in this broad field and including their academic transcript(s) and CV.

For further information, please contact hdr.coordinator.fses@anu.edu.au

For Scholarship information please visit here.