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Research interests:

– Marine ornithology
– Animal behaviour
– Movement ecology
– Population monitoring
– Foraging ecology
– Anthropogenic impacts including plastic pollution and climate change

Career history:

My career began with a BSc (Hons) in Wildlife Conservation at the University of Kent, followed some years later by an MSc by Research in Biodiversity Management. I have had a varied career so far, from working with the homeless and coordinating volunteers, to invasive species eradication and wildlife rehabilitation, but a passion for wildlife conservation has always prevailed. A defining role was working as the Ranger on Handa Island for two seasons, managing the remote wildlife reserve and monitoring it’s internationally important seabird colonies, which sparked a new obsession. Following this, I worked as a Seabird Ecologist for Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) where I specialised in colony monitoring and offshore industries advice, before starting my PhD in 2022.

Active research projects:

Drivers of individual specialisation in foraging behaviour in a model seabird, the Falkland Islands shag.

Individual variation is key to our understanding of ecological and evolutionary processes, with important implications for species conservation. In particular, the relevance and extent of consistent behavioural differences (‘personality’), and the degree of plasticity or specialisation shown by individuals, has important consequences for a range of key traits including survival and reproductive success. These translate into population level impacts because they influence the susceptibility of individuals to anthropogenic threats.

Using biologging techniques and diet analysis, this research will study the poorly known Falkland Islands shag (Leucocarbo atriceps albiventer) to investigate how intra-specific competition and environmental variation influence individual specialisation in foraging behaviours. As a widely distributed resident seabird, it offers a model system to not only follow individuals from colonies of varying size and with access to different oceanographic environments but to examine these contrasts year-round. Such characteristics make this species an excellent model to run a ‘natural experiment’ across gradients of competition (colony size) and environmental conditions (inshore and offshore colonies and seasonal variation in productivity and daylength) through which to examine drivers of individual variation in foraging/behavioural specialization.

Additionally, Falkland Island shags forage exclusively in the near-shore marine environment, making them an ideal sentinel species to quantify key areas of importance in the region, for integration into current marine management efforts.

This research is a collaboration between the University of Aberdeen and the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute

Recent publications:

Thompson, D.L., Ovenden, T.S., Pennycott, T. and Nager, R.G., 2020. The prevalence and source of plastic incorporated into nests of five seabird species on a small offshore island. Marine pollution bulletin, 154, p.111076.

Ovenden, T.S., Perks, M.P., Forrester, D.I., Mencuccini, M., Rhoades, J., Thompson, D.L., Stokes, V.J. and Jump, A.S., 2022. Intimate mixtures of Scots pine and Sitka spruce do not increase resilience to spring drought. Forest Ecology and Management, 521, p.120448.