How does personality and environmental change affect pace-of-life in Arctic seabirds


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Individuals, populations, and species are known to differ in their pace-of-life, with fast-paced individuals allocating resources preferentially to current reproduction, whereas slow individuals may reserve resources to benefit survival and thus future reproduction. Pace-of-life syndromes incorporate behavioural traits, such as personality and habitat choice, and physiology. Climate change will rapidly alter the availability of resources and individuals may differ in how they respond, including a trade-off between current and future reproduction. Arctic seabirds are an ideal study system as they are long-lived, their movement behaviour can be measured year-round using biologging devices, and the environment is changing rapidly. 'This project will combine new fieldwork with existing datasets on Arctic kittiwakes to address these questions for the first time.


  1. Examine individual's position along the fast-slow continuum in relation to their personality, foraging behaviour and habitat choice, using long-term pre-existing and newly collected data.
  2. Compare the behaviour and life-history between a population in Alaska, which does not rely on sea ice, and a population in Svalbard, and that is highly dependent on glacier activity and investigate the implications of rapid environmental change in the Arctic.
  3. Explore how experimentally increasing the resources available to birds alters their pace-of-life and the trade-off between current and future reproduction.

Novelty and Timeliness

There is a large body of evidence suggesting the environment is key to seabird reproductive success, but how the pace-of-life predicts the response of individuals or populations is not well understood. If individuals are affected differently by the environment, or these costs manifest over different time scales, this may affect their resilience to climate change. It is only by understanding how individuals’ immediate reproductive efforts and long-term fitness are affected by a changing climate that we can understand the resilience of populations and species.

Essential and Desirable Criteria


  • Demonstratable quantitative skills
  • A good understanding of behavioural and evolutionary ecology
  • The ability to problem solve and learn new skills
  • The ability to collaborative and work both unaided and as part of a team


  • An understanding of seabird biology
  • Field experience
  • Knowledge of spatial statistics
  • Experience working with mixed models

How to Apply

Notes and details of how to apply are available here:

All applicants to ACCE must complete the ACCE personal statement proforma. This is instead of a personal/supporting statement or cover letter. The proforma is designed to standardise this part of the application to minimise the difference between those who are given support and those who are not. Candidates should also submit a CV and the contact details of 2 referees.

Part-Time Study Options

All ACCE PhDs are available as part time or full time, with part time being a minimum of 50% of full time. Please discuss potential part time arrangements with the primary supervisor before applying to the programme.

Project CASE Status

This project is a CASE project. Your project will be co-supervised by the non-academic partner organisation, and you will spend 3-6 months on a placement with your CASE partner in their workplace. You will experience training, facilities and expertise not available in an academic setting, and will build business and research collaborations. Your CASE partner will also contribute an additional £1000 per year to your Research and Training Support Grant.


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Funded studentship

Funding statusCompetition funded

NERC ACCE DTP programme starts from October 2024.
UKRI provide the following funding for 3.5 years:

  • Stipend (2023/24 UKRI rate £18,622)
  • Tuition Fees at UK fee rate (2023/24 rate £4,712)
  • Research support and training grant (RTSG)

Note - UKRI funding only covers UK (Home) fees. The DTP partners have various schemes which allow international students to join the DTP but only be required to pay home fees. Home fees are already covered in the UKRI funding, meaning that successful international candidates do not need to find any additional funding for fees.



  1. Patrick, Samantha C., Julien GA Martin, Caroline C. Ummenhofer, Alexandre Corbeau*, and Henri Weimerskirch. "Albatrosses respond adaptively to climate variability by changing variance in a foraging trait." Global Change Biology (2021).
  2. Hämäläinen, Anni, Anja Guenther, Samantha C. Patrick, and Wiebke Schuett. "Environmental effects on the covariation among pace‐of‐life traits." Ethology 127, no. 1 (2021).
  3. Jeffries, Poppy M.*, Samantha C. Patrick, and Jonathan R. Potts. "Be different to be better: the effect of personality on optimal foraging with incomplete knowledge." Theoretical Ecology (2021): 1-13.
  4. Descamps, Sébastien, and Hallvard Strøm. "As the Arctic becomes boreal: ongoing shifts in a high-Arctic seabird community." Ecology (2021): e03485.