Seabird diets in a changing environment

Project Details

The CASE partner for this project is MacArthur Green & Dogger Bank Offshore Wind


Many UK seabird populations are declining and our marine ecosystems are failing to meet internationally recognised criteria for “Good Environmental Status (GES)”. UK Government aims to restore UK marine environment to GES and is developing a Seabird Conservation Strategy. Development of marine renewables (particularly offshore wind farms) represents a new and rapidly increasing pressure on seabirds. UK Government is considering the closure of sandeel fisheries either as a measure to recover marine ecosystems to GES or as compensation for impacts of offshore wind on key seabird species. The efficacy of such measures depends on the strength of links between seabird diet and demography. However, understanding of seabird diet is limited to a small number of colonies, to seabird species that are easily studied, and especially to the chick-rearing period. DNA metabarcoding allows the possibility for study of seabird diets throughout the breeding season, potentially outside the breeding season with birds caught at sea, and for a wider range of species and colonies, but has not yet been widely applied to study of UK seabirds.

The key aim is to determine whether DNA metabarcoding can provide information on the diets of UK breeding seabirds that could help to explain temporal and spatial patterns in seabird demography and so identify key drivers of seabird population change. The student will engage in fieldwork at several serabird colonies around the uk, and on several seabird species, with which the supervisors have established research links. The project will be supported by CASE partners MacArthur Green, and environmental consultancy, and Dogger Bank Offshore Wind, developers of the world's largest offshore wind farm and sponsors of several alied research projects invsetgiating seabird biology and conservation. This DPhil studentship will help to inform government conservation policy and will help developers of offshore renewables to gain a better understanding of the ecological needs of seabirds that may be impacted by their industry.


If you are interested in this project, please contact Tim Guilford in the first instance 

Further reading:
Burnell, D., Perkins, A.J., Newton, S.F., Bolton, M., Tierney, T.D. and Dunn, T.E. 2023. Seabirds Count. A census of breeding seabirds in Britain and Ireland (2015-2021). Lynx, Barcelona.

Fayet, A.L., Clucas, G.V., Anker-Nilssen, T., Syposz, M. and Hansen, E.S. 2021. Local prey shortages drive foraging costs and breeding success in a declining seabird, the Atlantic puffin. Journal of Animal Ecology 90: 1152-1164.

Querejeta, M., Lefort, M-C., Bretagnolle, V. and Boyer, S. 2023. Metabarcoding fecal samples to investigate spatiotemporal variation in the diet of the endangered Westland petrel (Procellaria westlandica). Avian Conservation and Ecology 18: 17.