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Projects available: 2021/22

For further details and how to apply please visit our MRes programme page. If you are interested in one of the following projects, please contact the relevant supervisor for more details.

Pond colonisation on the Black Isle

  • Lottie Hosie and Dr Matt Geary – University of Chester
  • Project partner: Scottish Natural Heritage

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.

For further details please contact


Do newts and grazers get along? Grazing impacts on Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatusI) terrestrial habitat at translocation receptor sites in N Wales.

  • Dr Lottie Hosie & Dr Chrissy Stanley – University of Chester
  • Paul Furnborough – Wild Ground

Decades of research investigating biodiversity responses to grazing have revealed no clear patterns, undermining the value of grazing in conservation. For amphibians, grazing by cattle or sheep has been shown to be both beneficial and detrimental, depending on the species of both grazer and amphibian. Great Crested Newts (GCN), which are experiencing declining populations and therefore have protected status in UK and Europe, make considerable use of the terrestrial habitat surrounding their breeding ponds. Adults disperse to forage and find overwintering sites; juveniles may also disperse over longer distances to find a new breeding pond. The density /structure of the grass sward is critical for allowing movement (but avoiding predation) but also to foster invertebrate food sources. This project will measure sward height/structure and sample vegetation around ponds at a successful translocation receptor site in North Wales where grazing intensity varies between ponds. Data collection will focus on this site time enabling seasonal comparisons. Lack of a) grazing history and b) long-term amphibian population data impedes clear understanding of current grazing effects. In this site the grazing history is known and there is long term data on GCN breeding success. Further sites where GCNs are less numerous but grazing history is known will also be investigated. This work will enable a clearer picture of relationships between grazing and GCN ‘success’ to be revealed.

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Evolutionary conservation: application of Phylogenetic Path Analysis to investigate the causal pathways leading to biodiversity loss

  • Dr Achaz von Hardenberg – University of Chester

Phylogenetic comparative methods allow to investigate macro-evolutionary patterns in the evolution of life history, ecological and behavioural traits (LEB) controlling for the non independence of data points due to common ancestry. In particular, a recently developed statistical approach, Phylogenetic Path Analysis (von Hardenberg and Gonzalez-Voyer, 2013), can now be used to test alternative models of the direct and indirect causal relationships among different LEB traits. For example we recently used this method to investigate which LEB traits favour the adaptability of mammals to urban environments (Santini et al., 2019). In this project, you will contribute in researching and compiling an extensive database on life history, ecological and behavioural traits in a taxonomic group of your choice and explore and test evolutionary and ecological causal hypotheses relevant to conservation. This project will require students to use recently developed state of the art statistical tools to investigate the problem. This project will allow you to perfection important analytical and statistical modelling skills which are particularly requested on the job market. A keen interest in modern statistical modelling approaches applied to conservation ecology is therefore obviously an essential requirement.

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  • von Hardenberg A & Gonzalez-Voyer, A. (2013) Disentangling evolutionary cause-effect relationships with Phylogenetic Confirmatory Path Analysis. Evolution, 67(2), 378-387.
  • Santini, L., González‐Suárez, M., Russo, D., Gonzalez‐Voyer, A., von Hardenberg, A., & Ancillotto, L. (2019). One strategy does not fit all: determinants of urban adaptation in mammals. Ecology letters, 22(2), 365-376.



Passive Acoustic monitoring of the critically endangered Indri (Indri indri) in eastern Madagascar

  • Dr Achaz von Hardenberg – University of Chester
  • Prof. Cristina Giacoma - University of Turin

Within this MRes project you will collaborate in developing a large scale passive acoustic monitoring (PAM, (1,2)) network, sustainable on the long term, for the monitoring of lemurs, and in particular the critically endangered Indri (Indri indri), in eastern Madagascar. Bioacoustics of indri has been studied for over 10 years in the Maromizaha protected area by the research group lead by Prof. Cristina Giacoma, and population size and age/sex composition of the habituated indri groups in the area are known, making it an ideal testing ground for PAM techniques. Commercial PAM loggers  (Wildlife Acoustics model SM4, costing about 400 GBP each) have been tested in previous work in Maromizaha showing that PAM is a viable and highly informative monitoring technique able to provide accurate information on population size, age/sex composition of groups and even individual identification of indri (3). The use of new generation low cost loggers (Audiomoths, 4) combined with rigorous monitoring protocols and automatic data collection networks (5) which make the data amiable to robust statistical techniques taking into account the issue of imperfect detection (6) would make a large scale community based monitoring scheme sustainable on the long term along the whole distribution areal of indri.

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  1. Marques et al. (2013) Biol. Rev.  DOI: 10.1111/brv.12001
  2. Kalan et al. (2015) Ecol. Indicators. 54: 217-226
  3. Torti et al. (2018)  PLOS ONE, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.020166
  4. Hill et al. (2018) Methods Ecol. Evol. 9(5): 1199-1211.
  5. Sethi et al. (2015) Methods. Ecol. Evol. DOI: 10.1111/2041-210X.13089
  6. Guillera‐Arroita (2017) Ecography, 40(2), 281-295.

Human wildlife conflict – behavioural changes over time in mountain gorillas

  • Dr Alison Fletcher and Dr Achaz von Hardenberg – University of Chester
  • Dr Winnie Eckardt - Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI)

This is a rare opportunity to be involved with research on the behaviour of endangered mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei).  In Rwanda, gorillas inhabit the Volcanoes National Park, directly bordering farmland.  Whilst gorillas were rarely observed to leave the forest before the early 2000s, some groups now leave relatively frequently to forage mainly on bamboo in nearby fields or eucalyptus trees, causing much damage to these resources which are used for construction and firewood.  Data have been collected on this behaviour for about 20 years by Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI) field staff, from early incidences of individuals climbing over the park wall to the current occurrence of quite distant forays into farmland.  This project involves collating and analysing these data (desk-based study in the UK) to investigate and statistically analyse gorilla behavioural changes over time associated with leaving the park.  The results will be important in helping to devise methods to deter individuals from leaving the forest.  The Chester student will be in close communication with, and will work in tandem with, a Rwandan Masters student (conducting their Masters in Rwanda) whose area of focus will be slightly different.  The successful applicant will be comfortable with statistical analysis of behavioural data sets.

For further details please contact

Facial expression and parturition in sheep

  • Dr Krista McLennan, & Dr Kelly Gouveia – University of Chester
  • Karin Mueller – Liverpool University, Leahurst

Labour is painful in humans (Lowe 2002) and there is evidence to support the presence of pain during parturition in cattle (Barrier et al. 2012) and pigs (Ison et al. 2016). In sheep, there is a significant lack of research into pain during the periparturient period. Preliminary data (unpublished) from our group demonstrates that during parturition, sheep facial expression reaches the highest score on the Sheep Pain Facial Expression Scale (SPFES) showing high levels of pain being present. This is an exciting project aiming to validate the use of the SPFES as a measure of pain during parturition, and to investigate the effects of parturition on the ewe welfare. You will form part of a growing project team that has made significant advances in this area.

The successful applicant should have a full driving license and access to their own vehicle, and should be prepared to carry out fieldwork within a 30-mile radius of Chester. Candidates should have good communication skills, and be prepared to work alongside farmers without interfering with the day-to-day runnings of the farm.

  • McLennan, K.M., Miller, A. L., Dalla Costa, E., Stucke, D., Corke, M.J., Broom, D.M., and Leach, M.C. (2019) Conceptual and methodological issues relating to pain assessment in mammals: the development and utilisation of pain facial expression scales. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 217, 1-15,
  • McLennan, K.M., and Mahmoud, M. (2019) Development of an automated pain facial expression detection system for sheep (Ovis aries). Animals, 9, 196
  • McLennan, K.M. (2018) Why Pain is Still a Welfare Issue for Farm Animals, and How Facial Expression Could be the Answer. Agriculture, 8(8), 127
  • McLennan, K.M., Rebelo, C.J.R., Corke, M.J, Holmes, M.A., Leach, M.C., and Constantino-Casas, F., (2016) Development of a facial expression scale using footrot and mastitis as models of pain in sheep. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 176, 19-25
  • McLennan, K. M., Skillings, E.A., Rebelo, C. J. B., Corke, M.J., Pires Moreira, M.A., Morton, A. J., and Constantino-Casas, F. (2015). Technical note: Validation of an automatic recording system to assess behavioural activity level in sheep (Ovis aries). Small Ruminant Research. 127, 92-96

For further details please contact