Columns - PhD dissertation review in ornithology (fourth edition)

Letizia Campioni (ed.)


This is the forth PhD-thesis collection in the ornithological research that Avocetta is glad to present to its readers. Compared to the previous reviews, this time there is a novelty! We extended our collection by including the theses of Italian ornithologists who chose to carry out their PhD abroad or in collaboration with foreign institutions. In fact, over the last decades, the number of Italian students (of all disciplines) who preferred an international PhD programme has been growing due to the availability of EU funded scholarships and the explicit recognition, by the National Research Program, that international mobility and training experience abroad is fundamental during PhD studies and for professional development (Tocchioni and Petrucci 2020). This PhD-thesis collection aims to offer an overview on the diversity of the research lines that exists in ornithology (both in Italy and Europe) and on the advances that have been made by young researchers through the completion of their thesis. We collected and reviewed the theses defended between the 2017/2018 and 2019/2020 academic years in European and Italian Universities by contacting colleagues, students and by using the social media to spread the voice. As already stated in the previous reviews, despite some thesis may have been passed overlooked to this review, it is evident how a large proportion (50%) of the reviewed ones has been defended in foreign universities. This figure is encouraging as it shows that Italian university and the ornithological community are able to stimulate and make students passionate about ornithological questions. Nevertheless, it highlights how many of these students choose to move abroad to carry out their PhD. This trend may suggest that Italian university are not able to adequately respond to the demand of all students nor to attract foreign students to compensate for who leave the country. Moreover, the total number of theses we compiled from 2013/2014 up to now (eight academic years) adds up to merely 24. Should we look at this number as an “alarm bell” for the Italian ornithological community? Likely we should, because in the long run, ornithologists may see its representation in academia critically reduced. To maintain the Italian ornithological research viable, and to adapt to this changing scenario where student mobility through European programme is highly encourage, it would be important for the Italian researchers to strength their collaborations with foreign institutions/researchers. Before presenting the main ornithological topics covered by the theses, it is worth noting that the valuable work done by these young ornithologists and the relevance of their results have already been recognised by the scientific community. Indeed, around 23 research papers (extracted from the theses) have been already published on peer reviewed international journals of broad ecological interest (see the reference list at the end of the review). Finally, we want to highlight that in the present PhD-student group there is an unbalanced man:woman sex ratio (5:1) suggesting how ornithology is not exception to the overall and well-known gender biases that exist in science (Penner 2015). Overall, the thesis reviewed in this collection cover topics related to different aspects of migration ecology (3 theses), climate change and conservation (2), vocal communication and function of signalling (1) and behavioural strategies and learning in social groups (1). The theses present results based on field-collected data (including the use of remote tracking telemetry) as well as on experiments carried out in aviary. The theses are presented in order according to the academic year and alphabetic order of the PhD candidate surname. Last note, the content of the abstracts has not been reviewed, hence the authors are accountable for it.