Calibrating the usefulness of local ecological knowledge for providing conservation baselines

Theme: Biodiversity & Ecology

Main Supervisor:

Sarah Papworth

School of Biological Sciences, RHUL

Second Supervisor:

Samuel Turvey

Institute of Zoology, ZSL

Project Description:

Limited ecological field data are available for many potentially rare, cryptic and threatened species. This lack of data makes it difficult to estimate key parameters such as population size or trends, which constitute essential baselines for setting conservation targets and prioritising species conservation management. Alternative data sources must be used under these circumstances. Information from untrained informants in local communities about the status of species and other natural resources, in the form of local ecological knowledge (LEK), is increasingly used to inform conservation decision-making. However, LEK may contain errors, distortions and biases about the true status of local species and ecosystems, with major implications for its use in conservation.

Whereas most conservation-focused studies use LEK in the absence of other available data, this project will combine new LEK data with comparative ecological data on the status of a range of species differing in their known abundance, population trends, detectability and “charisma”. The project can be modified to student interests and be applied to any system with existing modern and historical data on species population status/trends; potential systems include mammals and birds in Finland or the Scottish Highlands.

Policy Impact of Research:

The project will inform conservation biology by investigating how both species biology and human psychology can impact accuracy of LEK, by identifying conditions where LEK is most likely to be useful for species conservation, and where knowledge of ecological conditions is likely to be biased – qualifying the usefulness of LEK for conservation decision-makers and defining how it can be incorporated into conservation planning.

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