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Ben Dean

I'm a D.Phil. student in the Animal Behaviour Research Group at Oxford University, supported by the Natural Environment Research Council and Microsoft Research Cambridge as a Microsoft Research - University of Oxford Scholar.

I’m interested in a range of questions concerning the behaviour and ecology of pelagic foraging seabirds.

Me with a Manx shearwater















One set of questions is concerned with how long-lived seabirds manage the trade-off between reproductive effort (incubation, feeding their chick) and self maintenance (feeding, resting, preening) through activity at sea (foraging effort, resting, migration) and at the colony (timing of return and exit from the nest, timing of return relative to their partner, meal size fed to chick).

The second set is concerned with how pelagic foraging seabirds explore the ocean. How they search for, locate and exploit resources at sea; how they re-locate their colony and nest; and how they navigate an efficient route during their winter migration.

I aim to tackle these types of question by making use of advances in data logging technology to collect detailed information about the behaviour and movements of the Manx shearwater Puffinus puffinus breeding at the colony on Skomer Island (Pembrokeshire, Wales).

Manx shearwaters at sea










Basic Approach

Manx shearwaters nest in burrows and we have developed a system of nest-based data loggers (see Autonomous Monitoring of Vulnerable Habitats) that record the identity and weight of breeding adult shearwaters as they enter and exit their nest. These devices collect detailed information about the activity of shearwaters throughout the breeding season and allow us to determine the timing of nest activity, weight changes during foraging trips, and the size of meals fed to chicks.

In addition we have deployed combinations of bird-borne data loggers (GPS, TDR, Saltwater Immersion, Geolocation) on individual birds. These deployments provide detailed information on the movements and behaviour of birds at sea during the breeding season and winter migration.

I’m currently looking at how data simultaneously collected by different devices, can be combined to identify behavioural states at sea that are difficult to measure directly; how birds switch between different behaviours; and how environmental conditions influence behaviour.

Nest sensor

Array of bird-borne loggers














My Background

I studied for a B.Sc. in Zoology at Newcastle University followed by an M.Res. in Ecology and Environmental Management at the University of York. My M.Res. project was based at the Sea Mammal Research Unit (St Andrews) and used aerial survey techniques to study the abundance and distribution of cetaceans off the east coast of Scotland. I then worked in the Seabirds At Sea group of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (Aberdeen), where I used various spatial modelling techniques to identify marine protected areas for seabirds based on data from aerial and ship-based surveys and radio-tracking studies.



Dean, B. J., R. Freeman, H. Kirk, K. Leonard, R. A. Phillips, C. M. Perrins, and T. Guilford. "Behavioural mapping of a pelagic seabird: combining multiple sensors and a hidden Markov model reveals the distribution of at-sea behaviour." Journal of the Royal Society Interface FirstCite Online (2012).

Guilford, T., R. Freeman, D. Boyle, Dean B.J., H. Kirk, R. A. Phillips, and C. M. Perrins. "A dispersive migration in the Atlantic Puffin and its implications for migratory navigation." PLoS One (2011).

L.J., Wilson, McSorley C.A., Gray C.M., Dean B.J., Dunn T.E., Webb A., and Reid J.B.. "Radio-telemetry as a tool to define protected areas for seabirds in the marine environment." Biological Conservation 142, no. 8 (2009).

L.J., Wilson, McSorley C.A., Gray C.M., Dean B.J., Dunn T.E., Webb A., and Reid J.B.. "Rafting behaviour of Manx Shearwaters Puffinus puffinus." Seabird 21 (2008).

C.F., Redfern, Slough A.E.J., Dean B.J., Brice J.L., and P. Hope Jones. "Fat and body condition in migrating Redwings Turdus illiacus." Journal of Avian Biology 31 (2000).


Contact Details

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Ben Dean

Department of Zoology (E23A)

South Parks Road

Oxford OX1 3PS