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Quantifying the effects of deer on woodland structure in a human-altered landscape

The last century has seen a rapid increase in populations of deer species across Europe due to altered land use, improved wildlife management, reduced predation and more favourable climatic conditions. High deer densities have the potential to restructure vegetation, reduce woodland productivity and impact biodiversity. Sustainable management of these species is therefore crucial, but it relies on a detailed understanding of how impacts from herbivory are mediated. Typically, management focuses at the landscape scale to account for the large population ranges of many deer species. However, animal movement and foraging decisions are complex, hierarchical processes that are driven by resource availability and perceived risk/disturbance over a range of spatial and temporal scales. While it is challenging to observe these behaviours directly, recent advances in tracking technology now allows high resolution movement data to be recorded from multiple individuals remotely. In this project, we will use GPS collars coupled with detailed surveys of vegetation structure to determine how fine-scale movement of individual deer scales up to population-level utilisation of woodland habitats in a human-altered landscape. The research will focus on an expanding population of fallow deer in the Elwy Valley, North Wales. Specifically, the project will:

  1. assess how deer impact woodlands as a function of residence time
  2. elucidate the environmental and anthropogenic factors driving habitat use for critical behaviours
  3. quantify the effects of behaviour-specific habitat use on woodland structure, and
  4. model the future range expansion and habitat selection of deer using empirical data.

This project offers an exciting opportunity for a student to undertake cutting-edge research exploring the drivers of deer herbivory in woodland habitats over time and space. The impacts of large herbivores are a pressing issue for conservation, forestry and agriculture and this project has the potential to inform future policy on sustainable deer management.

Applicants are required to have a minimum of a 2:1 Honours Degree in a relevant biological discipline, such as Ecology, Zoology, Conservation Biology or Animal Behaviour. Candidates that have a Masters Degree and/or experience in ecological research are strongly encouraged to apply, as are those with a firm grounding and interest in herbivore ecology, fieldwork and the quantitative analysis of spatial datasets.

For further details on the project and the requirements, please contact Dr. Graeme Shannon (