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Participants: Dr John Arnould (PI), Dr Jonathan A Green (University of Liverpool)
Aims and background: In seabirds, there is considerable and consistent variation between individuals in their reproductive success. As a result, a small number of individuals often account for a large proportion of subsequent generations. However, almost nothing is known about the determinants of this skew in reproduction. Are successful pairs or individuals superior in terms of foraging or chick-rearing? Are inter-individual differences due to physiological and morphological attributes such as wing-loading, energetic efficiency or oxygen storage capacity? This project will not only attempt to determine and quantify these differences, but establish whether they are due to fixed phenotypic variation in 'quality' or simply due to age and/or experience.
Scientific significance and innovation: Advances in seabird behaviour and physiology over the last ten years have focussed on population level and descriptive studies. This study will take a more evolutionary approach to understand the mechanisms which underpin success at an individual level. This is a truly interdisciplinary project, at the interface of behaviour, ecology and physiology. The student will work at our established Australasian gannet study colony at Pope's Eye, Victoria, and be exposed to a broad range of physiological and behavioural data collecting techniques, including state of the art 'biologging' technology. The student will be based for half of their candidature at the University of Liverpool (UK).
Potential national benefit and strategic alignment with the aims of the CIE: This project falls under the National Research Priority of 'An Environmentally Sustainable Australia' and in particular the priority goals Responding to climate change and variability and Sustainable use of Australia's biodiversity. Seabirds are vulnerable to a number of threats in their natural environment such as climate change (both on land and at sea) and fisheries activity. The Australasian gannet is no exception to this, particularly in SE Australia where climate change impacts will be felt the strongest and the continuing and increasing exploitation of marine resources. Only by understanding differences between individuals will it be possible to predict and quantify the potential impacts on environmental change of these threats to this and other seabird populations. Consequently this project is also clearly aligned with the strategic aims of CIE.