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Dr Kate Ashbrook

Lecturer in Animal Biology

Institute of Science & the Environment

Contact Details

email: k.ashbrook@worc.ac.uk

tel: 01905 542372

Dr Kate Ashbrook joined the University of Worcester in January 2015 after four years of post-doctoral studies at the University of Bath. Her research interests focus on using modelling to understand the dynamics of ecological systems and inform conservation management.

Whilst in Bath, Kate was involved in a trial reintroduction of a globally-threated bird, the Great Bustard, to the UK. Her research during this time ranged from the development of improved captive-rearing and release strategies, to using species distribution modelling with remote sensing to inform targeted habitat management.

Her first degree was in Zoology, followed by a period as a field researcher for the Canadian Wildlife Service where she contributed to long-term monitoring of a seabird colony in Nunavut, Canada. Afterwards, she worked for the Department of Psychology at the University of Newcastle as a researcher, investigating learning of foraging cues in birds. For her PhD and in collaboration with the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Kate studied changes in the social interactions and population dynamics of colonial seabird in response to recent declines in food availability.
Kate is also interested in developing links between the scientific community and the general public and takes part in a variety of biological recording events nationwide, helping to promote education and enjoyment of wildlife for families and children.

Qualifications
PhD University of Leeds, 2010
BSc University of Newcastle, 2006
Kate is a member of the British Ecological Society, British Trust for Ornithology and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

News Items
Seabird chicks ‘killed over food’
Bustards on Tour 
Great bustards’ droppings studied to aid conservation

Teaching & Research

Teaching & Research

Teaching

Undergraduate Modules

1st Year Undergraduates
BIOS 1200 Animal Diversity
BIOS 1210 Comparative Animal Physiology

2nd Year Undergraduates
BIOS 2200 Project & Career Development
BIOS 2302 Invertebrate Biology
BIOS 2301 Comparative Vertebrate Digestion & Nutrition

Research

My research interests address the impacts of habitat and climate change on ecological systems, focusing on avian population dynamics, behaviour and ecology.

A picture of a Great Bustard chick

Conservation of threatened species

Species extinction rates are accelerating, despite increasing conservation efforts, highlighting the need for more evidence-based conservation management. Reintroductions aim to re-establish species within their historical ranges through the release of wild- or captive-bred individuals following extirpation or extinction in the wild. They have become an important tool in conservation management; however, many reintroduction populations fail to establish, and it is often unclear whether these failures were due to ad hoc methodologies and management, or simply the limited success of released individuals.

The Great Bustard is a globally threatened species, which was formerly widely distributed across large parts of lowland Europe, but started to decline in the 18th Century and is now absent from much of its original range. It became extinct in the UK in 1832 and from numerous other European nations over the rest of the 19th and 20th Centuries. In 2004, a 10-year trial reintroduction programme began releasing juveniles in the UK, based in south-west England. The project received EU LIFE+ funding in 2010 to increase the effectiveness of the reintroduction trial, allowing for detailed scientific monitoring and optimization of reintroduction and management techniques. Our aim was to help arrest and ultimately reverse the on-going decline in the conservation of the Great Bustard in Europe.

A picture of a bird flapping its wingsImpacts of environmental conditions on social dynamics and ecology

Colonial breeding in birds is widely considered to benefit individuals through enhanced protection against predators or transfer of information about foraging sites. This view, however, is largely based on studies of seabirds carried out under favourable conditions. During my PhD, I re-examined the costs and benefits of coloniality during a period of breeding failures at many seabird colonies in the UK, with particular emphasis on the relationship between environmental conditions and social dynamics. I showed that during periods of food shortage, the social environment of the colony breaks down, with unexpected and unprecedented numbers of attacks on chicks by neighbouring adults, often with fatal consequences.

Professional Bodies

Professional Bodies

Publications

Publications

Ashbrook, K., Taylor, A., Jane, L., Carter, I. & Székely, T. (in press). Impacts of survival and reproductive success on long-term population viability of reintroduced great bustards. Oryx.

Gooch, S., Ashbrook, K., Taylor, A. & Székely, T. (in press). Using dietary analysis and habitat selection to inform conservation management of reintroduced Great Bustards Otis tarda in an agricultural landscape. Bird Study.

Ashbrook, K., Wanless, S., Harris, M.P., & Hamer, K.C. (2011). Kleptoparasitism in Common Guillemots Uria aalge at two colonies during a period of poor food availability. Seabird 24: 83-89.

Ashbrook, K., Wanless, S., Harris, M.P., & Hamer, K.C. (2010). Impacts of poor food availability on positive density-dependence in a highly colonial seabird. Proceedings of the Royal Society Biological Sciences: B 277: 2355-2360.

Ashbrook, K., Wanless, S., Harris, M.P., & Hamer, K.C. (2008). Hitting the buffers: conspecific aggression undermines benefits of colonial breeding under adverse conditions. Biology Letters 4: 630-633.

External Responsibilities

External Responsibilities