My research internship with the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science

Posted By on Mar 6, 2018


 

blog by Adam Fisher, ACCE DTP student at the University of Liverpool

I would recommend doing a research internship to anyone who has the opportunity and wants to diversify their academic experience’

Background

I started my PhD at the University of Liverpool in October 2015, studying the population-level effects of different mating behaviours in predatory invertebrates.

So far, I have used a mixture of lab work and computational biology to identify which mating behaviours are most likely to increase population extinction risk in a rapidly changing environment.

Why the RSPB?

Since I had no experience of doing research outside of an academic institute, I decided to look for an internship at a conservation charity.

A quick online search for UK conservation charities made it clear that the RSPB had a large and diverse conservation science department, so I got in-touch and began planning my internship.

My first contact with the RSPB was through Mark Eaton who suggested that I could spend three months analysing data for the 2019 State of Nature report. Upon arriving at the RSPB, I was introduced to Fiona Burns and Richard Gregory, who I would also be working with.

What was I doing?

The State of Nature report consolidates plant and animal data from over 50 UK conservation charities and provides a great opportunity to observe UK wildlife trends and identify areas of conservation concern. It would also give me a chance to improve my statistical skills.

As part of the upcoming State of Nature report, we plan to examine whether species-specific traits affect population trends. After a week or so of exchanging ideas about which traits to examine, we decided to look at whether specialism could predict population decline.

Numerous studies have shown that specialist species are more vulnerable to decline than generalists*, so this seemed like a promising avenue of research. We have analysed data from several groups of plants, insects and birds, and have generated some promising results; we are confident that the work will be suitable for publication.

Was my internship beneficial?

The internship was definitely worthwhile, it gave me experience working in an area of ecology I am not familiar with and has broadened my skill set. It was also great to spend some time with bird enthusiasts taking part in farmland bird counts and ringing. As a bonus, I have managed to exponentially increase the length of my bird list!

I would recommend doing a research internship to anyone who has the opportunity and wants to diversify their academic experience.

*References

  1. Clavel, J., Julliard, R. and Devictor, V., 2011. Worldwide decline of specialist species: toward a global functional homogenization? Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 9(4), pp.222-228.
  2. Davey, C.M., Chamberlain, D.E., Newson, S.E., Noble, D.G. and Johnston, A., 2012. Rise of the generalists: evidence for climate-driven homogenization in avian communities. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 21(5), pp.568-578.