Tropical Asian ecosystems supported a diverse mammalian megafauna that has been largely lost through overexploitation and competition for natural resources. Most species are now confined to small habitat patches within modified landscapes, with extensive potential for unsustainable human-environmental interactions. However, Indigenous and rural communities living within these ecologically fragile landscapes are closely reliant upon natural resources and ecosystem services. Conservation approaches risk exclusion and disconnection of low-income communities from traditional sources of income and livelihood. It is therefore crucial to establish robust knowledge baselines using interdisciplinary approaches, to assess the potential for sustainable pathways that balance biodiversity and human wellbeing.
The tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis) is a Critically Endangered dwarf buffalo restricted to Mindoro Island, Philippines. Only a few hundred individuals survive in isolated forest patches adjacent to Indigenous Mangyan communities. These communities are highly dependent on natural resources for subsistence and cultural practices, but are moving from traditional land-use and hunting systems toward adoption of permanent agriculture. The studentship will engage closely with Mangyan communities and incorporate local ecological knowledge to establish evidence-informed conservation baselines. This research will characterize the identity, drivers, dynamics and sustainability of Mangyan interactions with biodiversity, and the shifting nature of such relationships due to socio-economic change. It will also determine local cultural knowledge and relationships with tamaraw, and awareness, attitudes and support for tamaraw conservation. This will evaluate how conservation policies on Mindoro can integrate Indigenous knowledge, voices and needs, and set the foundation for involving communities in natural resource management, policymaking, monitoring and evaluation.