PHD Scholarship Opportunity
For a PhD project on habitat selection, movement, and fission-fusion dynamics of the St. Lawrence Estuary beluga population
The St. Lawrence Estuary beluga population is currently listed as Endangered under the Canadian Species At Risk Act and the Loi sur les espèces menacées et vulnérables du Québec. Several threats to its recovery related to the navigation activities occurring in the population’s summer habitat are identified such as exposure to underwater noise and disturbance. Mitigating navigation impacts requires a good understanding of the factors underlying the behaviours of habitat selection along with the movements of this species in the St. Lawrence Estuary and the Saguenay (i.e. summer habitat). However, this understanding is currently incomplete because: i) few studies have tried to identify the mechanisms underlying the spatial distribution and movements of the belugas in the summer habitat, and ii) the rare studies did not consider beluga’s social behaviour or group fusion-fission dynamics.
This PhD project aims at identifying the factors (biotic and abiotic) explaining the spatial distribution and the movements of beluga groups in their summer habitat, acknowledging that habitat selection behaviours and movements might be influenced by the social and gregarious behaviour of this species. The project will also look into the group fusion-fission dynamics in the beluga’s summer habitat by exploring the conditions (e.g. habitat characteristics, time of day, group size and composition) under which pairs of known individuals are encountered in the same groups or not. This will allow to interpret the spatio-temporal variation in group size and composition and ultimately contribute to explain the spatial distribution of this species in its summer habitat. This project will provide valuable knowledge to improve our understanding of navigation impacts on the St. Lawrence beluga’s habitat selection and movements in its summer habitat. These results will be integrated in a model that simulates the movements of individual belugasvia a collaboration with modellers.
This project will be carried out using existing datasets and might also require additional fieldwork to collect new observational data. The selected candidate will be part of the Natural Science Department and will be based in Ripon (QC) at Institut des Sciences de la Forêt tempérée (ISFORT: http://isfort.uqo.ca/). She/He will work with researchers from the GREMM (Tadoussac) and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (Mont-Joli).
The desired candidate will show dynamism, motivation, intellectual curiosity and creativity, ability to work independently and as part of a team, along with a great sense of initiative. She/He will be encouraged and supported to travel for scientific communications (conferences, workshops), meetings with partners and stakeholders. The project funding is provided by the Government of Quebec. The selected candidate will contribute to the production of deliverables for the Ministry for Forests, Wildlife, and Parks and Ministry for Maritime Affairs on a yearly basis.
The candidate must hold a Master’s degree in biological sciences, or related field.
The following expertise and skills will be considered as assets:
– expertise on animal behaviour related to habitat selection and movements;
– expertise on social behaviour and fusion-fission dynamics in gregarious species;
– expertise on marine mammals;
– great expertise in data management and analysis with R software.
Project start: September 2019
Treatment: 20 000$/year for 3 years
Director: Angélique Dupuch (UQO-ISFORT)
Co-director : Véronique Lesage (DFO)
Collaborators: Clément Chion (UQO-ISFORT), Robert Michaud (GREMM), and Tyler Bonnell (Lethbridge University)
Application: Email your academic CV (long form), all academic records for bachelor’s and master’s degrees, an application letter (detailing your skills and assets related to the project requirements), and the name and contact information of 3 academic references to: angelique.dupuch @ uqo.ca, clement.chion @ uqo.ca, rmichaud @ gremm.org, veronique.lesage @ dfo-mpo.gc.ca, and tyler.bonnell @ uleth.ca.
Applications will be considered until the position is filled.