Are pesticides contributing to songbird declines? (2019)

A four year studentship for a UK or EU student which covers fees and living expenses

Type of award

Postgraduate Research

PhD project

Two fully-funded 4 year PhDs are available on the project “Are pesticides contributing to songbird declines?” Recent years have seen much controversy over the role that pesticides such as neonicotinoid insecticides, and herbicides such as glyphosate, may be playing in driving declines of insects. Evidence has emerged that they may also be implicated in declines of birds, either via direct toxicity or via depletion of populations of insect prey, and it is this that we propose to investigate. The two students will work together. One will have a chemistry background, and will focus on analysis of trace residues of pesticides in environmental samples; the other will be from an ecological background, and will be responsible for collecting and analysing ecological data, although the work split is flexible and will depend upon the persons appointed. In brief, we propose to: 1)Find out what pesticides birds are exposed to. We will quantify concentrations of pesticides in songbirds via feather samples, and also in blood and feathers from shot pheasants and partridge before and after the main crop drilling season in Autumn. Depending on what we find, subsequent investigations will attempt to identify the route of exposure. 2)Quantify exposure of birds and small mammals to pesticides via their consumption of pesticide-coated seeds following drilling of crops (potentially a source of acute exposure since doses on seeds may be large). This will be explored using camera traps and direct observation. 3)Model spatial and temporal patterns of population change in seed eating birds to see if they are predicted by patterns of pesticide use. 4)Impacts of pesticides on birds may well be indirect; via depletion of their insect food. We will investigate this in a variety of ways, including population modelling, and by using garden bird count data to see whether domestic use of pesticides in the garden and on pets predicts populations of insectivorous birds. There is also ample scope to develop new ideas and experiments so long as they broadly relate to the impacts of pesticides on birds


The scholarship covers: - Tuition fees at UK/EU rate - Living expenses at £15,009 per year (tax free) in 2019-20 and rising in line with inflation - Laboratory consumables and travel costs


The Scholarship is open to UK, EU and Overseas applicants, but the grant only covers Home/EU fees, so overseas applicants would need to fund the difference UK and overseas fees (currently around £16,000 per year). Candidates should have a strong background in either ecology and chemistry, with ability and motivation to integrate techniques from both disciplines, and ideally practical and theoretical experience of organic synthesis, insect behaviour and pest management. Candidates for whom English is not their first language will require an IELTS score of 6.5 overall, with not less than 6.0 in any section.

Number of scholarships available



31 May 2019 0:00 (GMT)

How to apply

Candidates must submit a formal application using our online application system:  Candidates are required to upload: - a CV - Degree transcripts and certificates - Statement of interest - Names of two academic referees - IELTS Certificate, for non-UK applicants - Copy of Passport On the application system select Programme of Study as PhD Biology or PhD in Chemistry. In the supervisor section state Professor Dave Goulson or Prof John Spencer. In the funding section state that you are applying for a Songbird Survival PhD.


Funded by “Songbird Survival” and University of Sussex, in collaboration with the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust.

Contact us

For enquiries about the application process contact:  

For enquiries about the project contact Prof Dave Goulson:   and

Background information can be found at:  and


At level(s):
PG (research)

Application deadline:
31 May 2019 0:00 (GMT)
the deadline has now expired


The award is available to people from these specific countries: