The Alps – a real barrier for bird migration?

    Figure from Aurbach et al. 2018 J. Theoretical Biology 454
    Figure from Aurbach et al. 2018 J. Theoretical Biology 454

    The Alps seem to represent a natural barrier for birds during their migratory journeys between the breeding and non-breeding grounds traveling from North to South. Despite extensive radar studies, still little is known on the behaviour of birds when facing natural barriers and on the environmental conditions leading birds to fly into and across mountain ranges during migration.


    The student will explore the dynamics of broad-front migration, using data being collected all year round in 2019 by four radars that monitor fluxes of birds at the southern entrance to the Alps, in the centre of the mountain ranges and in the central and the eastern part of the Swiss plateau. A between-site comparison of the migration intensity and flight direction, and how between-site correlations change with weather conditions, will provide insights into the effects of weather conditions on the migration intensity within the Alps. Furthermore, the student can apply a recently developed bird simulator (agent base model) to investigate the bird behaviour in flight. Comparing the simulation output with the data recorded by the radar can elucidate key aspects of the birds’ responses to natural barriers. Such analyses are of great interest for understanding the risks of collision of birds with (future) human made structures (e.g. wind turbines) erected in the Alps.


    The candidate should have a pronounced spatial imagination, good computer skills, strong interest in modelling and be willing to get familiar with programming in R and Python. The ideal starting date is in 2020, an earlier beginning is open to discussion.


    For application or additional information, please contact Felix Liechti or Baptiste Schmid.