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  • Ph.D. (M.S/post doc). Piping Plover Population, Habitat and Foraging Ecology, Virginia Tech and Fire Island, New York

    • Employer: Virginia Tech
      Location: Blacksburg, VA and Fire Island, NY
      Country: United States
      Last Date to Apply: No value
      Open Until Filled: Yes

    Ph.D. project will be filled by a highly qualified M.S. student. (If none found, we will consider a post doc).  Piping plover population, habitat and foraging ecology have been studied for nearly 80 years, but the mechanisms limiting plover populations remain elusive.  Population irruptions following sudden creation of new habitats (e.g. Wilcox 1959, Cohen et al. 2009, Robinson et al 2019) suggest that plover populations are habitat limited, but densities at carrying capacity and the environmental conditions determining them remain poorly understood. 

    New plover habitats formed when Hurricane Sandy overwashed Fire Island, removing vegetation and flattening dunes.  Additionally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created new plover management areas by mechanically removing vegetation and moving sand. These habitat changes provide a unique opportunity to study the relationship between plovers and habitat as well as the population dynamics of this threatened species.  This opportunity is enhanced by the availability of high resolution (15 cm), multispectral imagery, LIDAR imagery, and improving methods for estimating demographic parameters (mark-recapture).

    Students on this project will be part of a collaborative team working to achieve two closely aligned goals: 1) to understand the effect of Hurricane Sandy-created and human-created habitat changes on piping plovers and 2) to understand the role of food, physical habitat, predation, and human activities on the population regulation of this threatened species. Moreover, there will be an opportunity for a side project on red foxes.

    Project will likely focus on habitat ecology, population dynamics and/or foraging ecology, but there will be a lot of interaction and collaborative data collection and collaborative publication.  Opportunities also exist for collaboration within our lab.  See http://vtshorebirds.fishwild.vt.edu for a lab overview.

    Duties: Complete study design in consultation with PIs, Jim Fraser, Dan Catlin, and Sarah Karpanty and current project leaders Samantha Robinson and Katie Walker; collect data to test hypotheses and fit models; catch, mark and resight piping plovers; collect habitat data, and plover behavioral data, and human land use data; supervise technicians; operate trucks, boats, and UTVs; coordinate with the USFWS, USACE, NPS, New York State and Suffolk County governments, and other researchers; analyze data, write reports, give talks at conferences, attend coordination meetings, and publish research results in refereed journals with PIs. Fieldwork involves long hot days, early mornings and nights. Incumbent will live at a field site for a portion of each year during which time housing will be provided. This will be an excellent project for someone wishing to contribute to basic science and, simultaneously to the design of avian conservation strategies in the often contentious environment of land intensively used for multiple purposes. Start date is ASAP.

    Qualifications: B.S. and M.S. in Wildlife Science, Ecology, Conservation Biology or closely allied field, with excellent grades, strong GRE scores, evidence of completed or in-progress peer-reviewed publications, fieldwork experience and references. Demonstrated ability to get along with cooperators including USFWS, US Army Corps of Engineers, state and local authorities. Previous field experience required, preferably with shorebirds. Bird handling and banding experience highly preferred.  Evidence of scientific writing skills (i.e. academic papers, publications, etc.) and a commitment to scientific publication. Coursework or experience with population and/or behavioral ecology desired. Willingness to work long hours in the hot sun in remote conditions.Experience with GIS and remote sensing desirable. Supervisory experience, especially of wildlife fieldworkers preferred. Good color vision is required to read colorbands. Boating skills will be helpful.

    Salary: Competitive stipend and tuition

    To apply: email C.V., 1 page letter of application explaining why you want this position and what you would like to accomplish in the position, degree title and GPA for all degrees, transcripts of all college work, GRE scores and names and contact information for 3 references. Finalists will be asked to participate in a phone interview and on-site interview, to send transcripts, and to apply to the Virginia Tech graduate school. Email information to Jim Fraser (fraser@vt.edu). Candidate selection will begin immediately and will continue until position is filled. We recommend applying as quickly as possible.



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