PhD Position – Modelling geomagnetic bird navigation – University of St Andrews


This project will model how migratory birds use the information in the Earth’s magnetic field to find their way during their long journeys. We will employ a big data analytics approach to better understand what strategies the birds use for their navigational feats. For this, we will collect real geomagnetic data with Unmanned Aerial Vehicle surveys under both calm and disturbed geomagnetic conditions – St Andrews is located at a relatively high northern latitude and therefore frequently experiences disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field caused by solar storms. These real geomagnetic data will then be used as the conceptual space within which we will simulate various bird navigational strategies through Agent-Based Modelling (ABM), which is frequently used for investigation of human navigation, but has rarely been applied in the context of animal movement. Simulations will be grounded in ornithological research and will correspond to several proposed (but not yet confirmed) geomagnetic navigation strategies, which were identified through ecological experiments. Results will be validated through a comparison with real navigational patterns from MPIO bird tracking studies. The ultimate goal is to find out if and how our data-driven navigational simulations corroborate the biological theory.

This is primarily a data science project, consisting of the collection of geomagnetic data and development of new ABM methods for navigation within these data. The work will however be fully informed with biological domain knowledge through the collaboration with MPIO. The project is expected to result in a completed PhD thesis and in several journal publications.

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