Dr Ewan Wakefield
- Affiliate Researcher (Institute of Biodiversity Animal Health & Comparative Medicine)
2005 – 2009 PhD (Biology) University of St Andrews/British Antarctic Survey, UK
2000 – 2001 MSc (Marine Environmental Protection), University of Wales, Bangor, UK
1993 – 1996 BSc (Ocean Science), University of Plymouth, UK
Research and Professional Experience
2016 – present NERC Independent Research Fellow, University of Glasgow, UK.
2014 – 2015 Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, UK.
2013 – 2014 Leadership Fellow, University of Glasgow, UK.
2013 – 2014 Visiting Research Fellow, School of Biology, University of Leeds, UK.
2010 – 2013 Research Fellow, University of Leeds, UK.
My main research interests are centred on pelagic seabirds and in particular their spatial ecology. This is a subject I find particularly fascinating and challenging because:
- Pelagic seabirds spend the majority of their time out of sight of land, often ranging over vast distances, through a marine environment that humans are ill-adapted to. In order to learn about the these species, we must also therefore seek to learn about the oceans and the wider forces that shape them.
- Understanding more about seabirds can be revealing about their many ecological analogues. For example, by understanding why so many seabirds breed in large colonies, we can gain insights into the ecology and sociobiology of other colonial central-place foragers – a group that includes not only swallows, bats and ants but also us.
- Seabirds, have obvious intrinsic worth yet they are currently impacted more than most animal groups by the negative effects of humans activities. There is an urgent need to map and understand their distributions so that areas where they are most at risk from bycatch, pollution and other unnecessary by-products of human expansion, can be protected.
Currently, I am particularly interested in:
- Oceanographic and meteorological drivers of seabird distribution, including the effects of wind on transport costs, and of fronts and eddies on food availability.
- Competition as a driver of seabird distributions and the emergence of group-level behaviours.
- Social learning and other forms of information transfer among seabirds.
- Nutrient transport and recycling by seabirds.
- Modelling tracking and at-sea survey data and to identify Marine Protected Areas.
- Estimating the size and distribution of pre-anthropocene seabird populations in order to set meaningful conservation goals.
- Combining sparse survey data and satellite imagery through habitat modelling to estimate seabird colony sizes.
I am also interested in many other aspects of ecology and natural history and especially in the ethics and practice of conservation, habitat restoration and rewilding. For example, my collaborators and I have recently established a study of extant and extinct canids in the Falkland Islands (Dusicyon australis and Lycalopex griseus respectively). This involves not only basic research on diet, distribution and impacts of feral canids in the archipelago but also addresses broader themes, including the ethical dilemmas posed by introduced species and the role of ecological replacement in conservation.
Seabirds and wind - the consequences of extreme prey taxis in a changing climate
This five year NERC Independent Research Fellowship currently takes up most of my time. It is a wide-reaching project with the overarching aim of predicting how changes to the wind and oceanographic climate of the Atlantic will affect the movements and aggregations of shearwaters and petrels. Collaborators include Prof Jason Matthiopoulos (University of Glasgow), Dr Paulo Catry (MARE-ISPA), Prof. Paul Thompson (University of Aberdeen) and Prof. Eric Achterberg (GEOMAR).
The project’s core objectives are:
1. To quantify the effects of habitat availability, productivity and movement costs on the meso to macro-scale distribution of great shearwaters, sooty shearwaters, Cory’s shearwaters and northern fulmars - all species that rely on the wind to make long-distance foraging and migratory movements.
2. To quantify the combined effects of habitat availability, productivity, movement costs and fisheries on seabird demographics.
3. To determine whether seabirds mediate nutrient recycling and transport within oceanic ecosystems.
4. To predict how climate change will affect the future distributions, demographics and ecosystem functions of seabirds.
The project focusses on a seabird diversity hotpot in vicinity of the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone and sub-polar front in the Northwest Atlantic, where the four species cooccur in the boreal summer. In June, 2017 I led a research cruise aboard the RRS Discovery (DY080 https://noc.ac.uk/science/previous-expeditions to survey and sample seabirds in this area (you can hear podcasts about the cruise here https://naturallyspeaking.blog/2018/10/08/podcast-series-the-rrs-discovery-episode-1/. Participants in he cruise included BirdLife International, who are currently working with OSPAR on a proposal to designate the area as a high seas Marine Protected Area. You can learn more about BirLife’s participation in the cruise here https://www.birdlife.org/europe-and-central-asia/projects/seabirds-and-marine/journey-to-the-mid-atlantic-ridge and about the proposed North Atlantic Current and Evlanov Seamount MPA here https://www.ospar.org/work-areas/bdc/marine-protected-areas/ospar-seeks-views-on-the-nomination-proforma-for-the-north-atlantic-current-and-evlanov-seamount-mpa.
Grants and Awards listed are those received whilst working with the University of Glasgow.
- Falkland Islands sooty shearwaters fieldwork
2017 - 2018
- The population size and fine-scale foraging distribution of Falkland Islands sooty shearwaters: a baseline study
Falkland Island Government
2016 - 2017
- Seabirds and wind - the consequences of extreme prey taxis in a changing climate
Natural Environment Research Council
2016 - 2021