MRes Opportunities with Dr Matt Geary at the University of Chester
During the next academic year I have several research opportunities for students who would be interested in undertaking a masters by research degree programme.
My projects available this year are:
- Highland Dragonfly Occupancy and Distribution
- White-faced darter dragonflies in the Italian Alps
- Pond colonisation on the Black Isle
- Great Crested Newt occupancy on the Black Isle
- Tawny Owls in Cheshire
- Conservation genetics of Natterjack toads at Red Rocks
Please see the descriptions below for more information
Our MRes programme falls under the umbrella title of MRes in Biological Sciences. The course consists of two taught modules completed in the first term followed by extended research project for the rest of the course. Students are expected to have contacted a potential supervisor and agreed this project prior to applying for the course. The tuition fees currently stand at £4263 for the MRes programme. The successful applicant would also be responsible for their accommodation and living costs. Assistance will be provided with fieldwork and equipment costs where possible. For more information about MRes projects with me, please get in touch via email (M.Geary@Chester.ac.uk).
Highland Dragonfly Occupancy and Distribution
w/ Dr. Achaz von Hardenberg
The Scottish Highlands are home to a small number of Northern distributed dragonfly species. These high-latitude specialists are likely to be under-recorded and we do not currently have a good understanding of what is likely to drive their distributions. One of these species, White-faced darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) is a lowland peatbog specialist dragonfly which is currently classified as endangered on the British Red Data list. They are patchily distributed in Britain with the largest populations in the Scottish Highlands. Previous projects at the University of Chester have established a monitoring protocol to survey each life-stage of the white-faced darter and established habitat relationships at both broad and fine scales. This project would use this protocol to monitor white-faced darter and other highland specialist odonata, across several sights in the Scottish Highlands. The project aims to record the status of these species at a range of sites across the Scottish Highlands. These surveys will use multi-life-stage survey methods and incorporate repeated visits which will allow us to estimate occupancy and detectability across the region. The results of this work will inform dragonfly conservation and monitoring protocols. This project will involve fieldwork in the Highlands of Scotland and students should be expected to be based there during the field season. Dragonflies have a broad range in the Highlands and the fieldwork sites are likely to include some remote, and extremely beautiful, sites. This project would suit a student who is keen to work in the field. It will require good networking skills and the ability to work independently.
White-Faced Darter Dragonfly Ecology in the Italian Alps
w/ Dr. Achaz von Hardenberg
White-faced darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) are a lowland peatbog specialist dragonfly which is currently classified as endangered on the British Red Data list although their status varies across their European range. Previous projects at the University of Chester have established a monitoring protocol to survey each life-stage of the white-faced darter and established habitat relationships at both broad and fine scales in Britain which represents the North-west range limit of this species. This project would use this protocol to monitor white-faced darter close to the Southern limit of its range in Northern Italy. The project will use a multi-life-stage approach and incorporate repeated visits along with collecting habitat data. This will allow us to identify important habitat associations and compare these to Northern populations. This project will involve fieldwork in the Italy and students should be expected to be based there during the field season. This project would suit a student who is keen to work in the field and the ability to drive would help in this regard. It will require good networking skills and the ability to work independently. The ability to speak Italian would be beneficial but not essential.
Pond colonisation on the Black Isle
w/ Scottish Natural Heritage and Dr. Lottie Hosie
Ponds are a specialist habitat which have been lost across large areas of Great Britain during the last century. This has led to the creation of ponds as an example of conservation management in many areas. The ultimate objective of such pond creation efforts may be to benefit particular target species such as great crested newt (Triturus cristatus), however, they also provide habitat, both transient and permanent for a range of other species. This project will use biodiversity assessments of newly created ponds on the Black Isle, Scottish Highlands, spanning a range of ages. The project will investigate changes in species richness and diversity over time as well as habitat features associated with particular taxa. This project will involve fieldwork in the Highlands of Scotland and students should be expected to be based there during the field season. This project would suit a student who is keen to work in the field. It will require good networking skills and the ability to work independently.
Great Crested Newt occupancy on the Black Isle
w/ Scottish Natural Heritage and Dr. Lottie Hosie
The Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus; GCN) is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Species which is protected by both UK and European legislation. Their biphasic lifestyle makes considerable use of terrestrial habitat surrounding their breeding ponds, but we know very little about this aspect of their lives. In contrast there is often extensive data, collected by enthusiastic volunteer surveyors, showing pond occupancy by the species during the breeding season. Combining such field data and modelling approaches can usefully inform management of GCN populations. Indeed, modelling methods have revealed the importance in this population of the surrounding woodland to newts (Miró et al. 2017) One particularly promising area of research is the use of occupancy modelling methods to investigate relationships between amphibian presence /abundance and variables related to habitats and management practices (e.g. Peterman et al, 2013). Not only can these models allow us to improve our understanding of GCN ecology but they can also be used to provide evidence for beneficial management actions for GCN conservation. Output from occupancy models can also help improve efficiency and accuracy of volunteer GCN surveys and the value of this will be assessed. The project will concentrate on a population of GCN on the Black Isle, Scottish Highlands which, due to their relative isolation, provides an interesting situation to investigate pond-specific preferences and relationships with habitat features. This project will involve fieldwork in the Highlands of Scotland and students should be expected to be based there during the field season. This project would suit a student who is keen to work in the field. It will require good networking skills and the ability to work independently.
Tawny Owls in Cheshire
w/ Cheshire Raptor Study Group
Tawny owl (Strix aluco) is Britain’s commonest owl species although populations have declined in recent years. Population decline is likely related to the impacts of land-use change on food resources and the availability of nest sites. Previous nestbox schemes for Tawny owl where natural nest sites are scarce, particularly in plantation woodland, have been extremely successful. This project will coincide the with creation of a nestbox scheme for Tawny owl in and around Delamere forest in Cheshire. The project will involve monitoring these boxes, in conjunction with licensed individuals from the Cheshire Raptor Study Group, and investigating the relationships between box use, nesting success and productivity with box characteristics and habitat. This project would suit a student who is interested in ornithological fieldwork. The project will require the ability to work closely with partners and good networking skills.
Conservation genetics of Natterjack toads at Red Rocks
w/ Cheshire Wildlife Trust, Dr. Lottie Hosie and Dr. Anna Muir
Small, isolated populations are at high risk of local extinction due to loss of genetic variability and associated reduction in fitness. Therefore, knowledge of population size and genetic diversity in isolated populations is vital in order to prioritise conservation actions and recover populations that are at risk. The natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita) is endangered and legally protected in Britain and exists in less than 40 locations, making it of high conservation concern. One native natterjack toad site lies on the edge of the Dee Estuary at Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Red Rocks Nature Reserve. The historical population declined to extinction in the early 90’s and was reintroduced from a source population in North Merseyside However, due to the lack of suitable surrounding coastal dune habitat, the natterjack toad population at Red Rocks is now thought to be completely isolated and concerns have been raised that population numbers are low. Therefore, knowledge of population size and genetic diversity of the natterjack toads at this site are vital to avoid a second local extinction event. This project will involve collection of non-invasive samples in the field and will use conservation genetic techniques, including microsatellite markers and genetic capture-recapture, to: 1) quantify the number of individuals within the population; and 2) assess the genetic diversity of the population. The results of this study will be used to form conservation recommendations with Cheshire Wildlife Trust. The ideal candidate will have previous experience of laboratory work (including DNA extraction and PCR) and access to a vehicle for fieldwork.
Alpine Aliens: Distribution and spread dynamics of invasive alien plant species in the North-western Italian Alps
w/ Achaz von Hardeberg & Dr. Mauro Bassignana (IAR, Aosta, Italy – External partner)
The invasion of alien species in ecosystems is one of the major drivers of biodiversity loss worldwide. Invasive plant species can have a particularly significant impact on the abundance and diversity of resident plants, with consequent cascading ecosystem wide effects (Vilà et al. 2011). This project will focus on the distribution and spread dynamics of three invasive alien species recently accidentally introduced in Aosta Valley (Italy). The external partner of this project (Institut Agricolé Regional, IAR) will provide survey data for all three species collected in 2009-2010. This project will allow you to develop analytical and statistical modelling skills applied to an important conservation issue, which are particularly requested on the job market. You will help with field data collection in Spring-Summer 2019 in Aosta Valley in Italy. This project would suit someone keen to work in the field as well as develop key employability skills. This project will involve fieldwork in the Italy and students should be expected to be based there during the field season. It will require good networking skills and the ability to work independently. The ability to speak Italian would be beneficial but not essential.