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:


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 £4126 for the MRes programme. The successful applicant would also be responsible for their accommodation and living costs. For both of the projects detailed below assistance will be provided with fieldwork and equipment costs where possible. For more information about either of these projects please contact Dr Matt Geary (M.Geary@Chester.ac.uk). A wider range of projects are available as part of the MRes, please contact Dr Matt Hartley (M.Hartley@Chester.ac.uk) for a full list of the wildlife behaviour and conservation projects available.


The global conservation status and threats to rails (Rallidae)

w/ Dr Alex Bond (NHM) & Dr Auriel Fournier (Mississippi State University)

Rails, coots, and gallinules (family Rallidae) are an understudied group of nearly 150 globally distributed species. Despite Rallidae’s global distribution, many species are secretive and poorly studied, and while many species have large geographic ranges, many are single-island endemics, resulting in very different potential threats to each group’s populations. Over 30 species have gone extinct in the last 500 years, and 35 are globally threatened on the IUCN Red List. This project will evaluate the global conservation status of Rallidae, and synthesize the threats to populations, following similar work done for seabirds (Croxall et al. 2012. Bird Conservation International 22:1-34), including synthesizing their Red List Index, geographic areas of high endemism, common conservation themes among species, while highlighting research gaps and priorities. The student will also work closely with Dr Alex Bond (Natural History Museum; https://alexanderbond.org/) and Dr Auriel Fournier (Mississippi State University; https://aurielfournier.github.io/), and with staff of Birdlife International, the Red List Authority for birds.


Conservation of critically endangered ibis species

w/ Wildlife Conservation Society & Dr Matt Hartley

Northern Cambodia is home to important populations of the critically endangered Giant Ibis (Thaumatibis gigantea) and White-shouldered Ibis(Pseudibis davisoni). These species are the focus of a nest protection and monitoring programme run by the Wildlife Conservation Society. They is also regularly caught on a network of camera traps used to monitor rare ungulate species in the region. This project will use these two data sources in combination along with data on habitats, landscape features and land use change to investigate, population trends, habitat preferences and breeding ecology of this threatened species. In particular the project will investigate drivers of population change and the importance specific features of forest pools for these species. The region is also home to several other threatened bird species which and the project may expand to include some of these where possible. This project is desk-based and would suit a student with good analytical and GIS skills who is interested in bird conservation.


Highland White-Faced Darter Dragonfly Ecology

w/ Dr. Achaz von Hardenberg

White-faced darter (Leucorrhinia dubia) are a habitat-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. This project would use this protocol to monitor white-faced darter across several sights in the Scottish Highlands. The project will investigate differences in ecology, demographics and habitat preference across sites and provide information which will contribute to white-faced darter conservation at current sites as well as allow future surveys to better target suitable sites which are currently overlooked. 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.


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.


Using atlas data to estimate bird density and occupancy

w/ Dr. Achaz von Hardenberg

Bird atlases represent a huge undertaking which relies largely on the efforts of deeply committed amateurs around the country. These atlases, plus the survey work which informs them, represents an extremely useful source of information about bird distributions. This project aims to use the North Wales Bird Atlas as the basis for adding value to the bird atlas as a scientific resource. The project will make use of both the atlas data itself along with data from the various surveys which contributed to the atlas. The project will use modern statistical modelling approaches to estimate population density of key species in North Wales with regards to habitat as well as occupancy across the region. This project would suit a student with an interest in ornithology and innovative quantitative ecology methods.


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.