Ph.D. Position: Wintering Waterfowl Bioenergetics and Foraging Habitat in South Atlantic Coastal Wetlands – South Carolina

Mississippi State University, Nemours Wildlife Foundation, and Clemson University’s James C. Kennedy Waterfowl & Wetlands Conservation Center
South Carolina
Job Category
Graduate Assistantships
Start Date
Last Date to Apply
We are seeking an exemplary Ph.D. student to join our team and lead a multi-faceted, applied research project assessing bioenergetics and foraging-habitat capacity for waterfowl and other waterbirds in south Atlantic coastal wetlands. The student will matriculate in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Aquaculture at Mississippi State and conduct fieldwork in coastal wetlands of the Central Atlantic Flyway. New laboratory facilities are available at Nemours Wildlife Foundation, Yemassee, SC and Clemson University’s Kennedy Center at the Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science, Georgetown, SC. The overarching goal is to determine foraging habitat carrying capacity of south Atlantic managed and non-managed tidal wetlands in association with the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture and other North American Waterfowl Management Plan partners. This project seeks to integrate traditional and state-of-the-art techniques to examine food use and availability in managed and non-managed tidal coastal wetlands. This project will involve accessing hunter-harvested ducks at state, federal, and private waterfowl hunting areas during legal waterfowl hunting seasons in South Carolina and other local states. From these birds, we will collect excreta, blood, liver, and feathers. Duck excreta will be used for eDNA analyses to identify food items consumed by ducks; sequencing excrement will help establish a baseline of birds’ diets. Techniques also will involve using pieces of mtDNA, or barcoding genes, to identify specific plant species consumed. Combining fecal samples with metabarcoding of various invertebrates/plants will reveal diet composition of different duck species, including primarily gadwall, American green-winged teal, northern pintail, blue-winged teal, and ring-necked ducks. Time-activity observations of ducks and scientific collecting of foraging ducks also may be conducted to relate foraging patch use to diet items and to validate eDNA data from excreta. Wetlands will be sampled to collect plant and invertebrate foods from foraging habitats to estimate food availability (e.g., Masto et al. 2020, Wetlands; Bauer et al. 2020, Wildlife Society Bulletin [in press]). Lastly, contrasting isotope values of ingested foods with duck tissues, and using isotopic signatures of wing feathers to understand geographic origins of wintering ducks is also an objective. The student will gain broad exposure to Atlantic Flyway wetlands, particularly the historic Lowcountry wetland complexes of South Carolina (Gordon et al. 1998, Journal of Wildlife Management). The project also uniquely blends some traditional methodology (e.g., bird collections) with new approaches (e.g., eDNA) to study animal-habitat relationships. Scientific communication of project outcomes will be expected through a variety of outlets including publications, presentations, and public outreach. The Ph.D. student also will be encouraged to assist principal investigators pursue extramural funding to help support the project. Start Date: January 15, 2021 or as negotiated Last Date to Apply: September 30, 2020. This project is fully funded with tuition waiver and health insurance. To Apply: Please submit the following in a single PDF (e.g., LastName_PhDApplication) to Dr. J. Brian Davis via email (; Subject “Atlantic Flyway PhD”) no later than September 30, 2020: (1) cover letter emphasizing your applicable research experience, interests, and career goals, (2) current CV and GRE score(s), (3) unofficial transcripts, and (4) contact information for three references. Please feel free to reach out with any additional questions prior to applying. Applications will be reviewed in the order received and reviews will begin immediately. Please apply as soon as possible.
Minimum qualifications include a M.S. in wildlife science, ecology, genetics, natural resource management, conservation, or similar discipline. Applicants must successfully defend their M.S. prior to starting and meet any other requirements of the Graduate School at Mississippi State University. The candidate must have strong academic, experiential, and quantitative backgrounds, ability to lead and work independently in the field and laboratory, exhibit collegiality and team work, a zeal to present and publish results, and a passion and personal goal to advance the profession of waterfowl ecology and conservation. Also, candidates must be able to integrate and communicate effectively with private landowners and managers of state and federal lands. Quality interpersonal skills will be necessary to gain access to lands, manage field technicians, and communicate with the diverse partners/stakeholders involved in this study. Preferred qualifications include having a passion for waterfowl and wetland ecology and management and ability to endure extreme weather coastal weather conditions and biting insects. Demonstrated skills such as field sampling (core sampling), plant identification or exposure, interest in genetics/mtDNA/isotopes, and similar skills/interests are beneficial. The student also should be highly motivated to ultimately analyze data and write manuscripts. Mississippi State University is recognized as a Carnegie Foundation R1-Very High Research Activity doctoral university and ranked among the National Science Foundation’s top 100 research institutions. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY STATEMENT: MSU is an equal opportunity employer, and all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, ethnicity, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, genetic information, pregnancy, gender identity, status as a U.S. veteran, and/or any other status protected by applicable law. We always welcome nominations and applications from women, members of any minority group, and others who share our passion for building a diverse community that reflects the diversity in our student population.
Contact Person
Dr. Brian Davis
Contact eMail
Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.