Geographic profiling in conservation and ecology

Theme: PDS

Primary Supervisor:

Steve Le Comber

School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, QMUL

Steve Le Comber's Profile Picture

Secondary Supervisor:

Hannah Fry

Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, UCL

Hannah Fry's Profile Picture

Project Description:

Geographic profiling (GP) is a statistical technique originally developed in criminology to prioritise large lists of suspects in cases of serial crime by using the spatial locations of crime sites to make inferences about the offender’s ‘anchor point’ (usually a home, but sometimes a workplace). Work in my research group has shown how the model can be adapted and extended to biological data, notably animal foraging (where it can be used to find animal nests or roosts using the locations of foraging sites as input), epidemiology (identifying disease sources from the addresses of infected individuals) and invasive species biology (using current locations to identify source populations).

Work by a previous NERC DTP student, Sally Faulkner (cohort 1) has shown how the model can be extended to include more complex spatial information, particularly in a conservation setting (eg human-tiger conflict in Indonesia, poaching in Zimbabwe). This PhD has produced published papers in journals including Nature Communications, Conservation Biology, Diversity and Distributions and the Journal of Zoology. A second DTP student, Michael Stevens (cohort 3) is currently showing how the model can be extended the model to include absence data and genetic information.

Prior to Sally’s work, GP models assumed a spatially homogenous landscape. Sally showed how it the model output could be adjusted post hoc to include information relating to different habitat types (eg forest v farmland, inside or outside nature reserves). In this project, the student will build on Sally’s work to include this information at an earlier stage, using more complex priors, while simultaneously developing the model as a practical tool in ecology and conservation. Alternatively, depending on the particular student’s interests, the project might focus on incorporating temporal data.

Policy Impact of Research:

Geographic profiling has an extensive track record in criminology, and is routinely used by law enforcement around the world. Work in my group is now attracting the attention of public health bodies (eg US Armed Forces Pest Management Board) and conservation bodies.

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