PhD Student (University of Southampton and WWT)

About me

I am coming towards the end of my PhD based at the University of Southampton, in the National Oceanography Centre. My academic background is in biology (undergraduate degree: Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge) and conservation (Master’s degree: Biodiversity, Conservation and Management at the University of Oxford). I have also previously volunteered in the Duckery at Slimbridge, in summer 2014. I am a student representative on the National Oceanography Centre’s Athena SWAN (EDI) committee, and volunteer researcher for Conservation Evidence, which involves searching ornithology and ecology journals (including Wildfowl) for studies on the efficacy on management interventions. The final chapter of my PhD conducts Bayesian population analyses on black-browed albatross data from Kerguelen in the southern Indian Ocean, with Dr Stéphanie Jenouvrier at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (USA) and Dr Rémi Fay at NTNU (Norway). Please feel free to follow me on Twitter: @alexnicolharper and #TheNotSoCommonEider!

My project

I’m supervised by Professor Tom Ezard & Professor Patrick Doncaster in Southampton, and Dr Geoff Hilton & Dr Kevin Wood at the WWT. I use a mathematical technique – matrix population modelling – to investigate the relationships between vital rates (clutch size, adult survival, etc.) and population growth rate, to assess which life-stages might be the best targets for monitoring and intervention. Good estimates and predictions of common eider demography and population dynamics are important, since the species was uplisted to Near Threatened in 2016. We hope our findings will also inform management of other seaducks, many of which are threatened and/or little-studied. I’ve presented our work at meetings of the British Ecological Society, European Ornithologists’ Union, North American Congress for Conservation Biology, as well as via the 5th World Seabird Twitter Conference (#WSTC5), and contributed to AEWA’s International Single Species Action Plan for Somateria m. mollissima and S. m. borealis.


  • R programming
  • Matrix population modelling
  • Data synthesis and meta-analysis
  • Interdisciplinary scientific writing
  • Public engagement
  • Wildfowl handling