Giant rats in a changing world

Theme: Biodiversity, Ecology & Conservation

Primary Supervisor:

Samuel Turvey

Biodiversity and Macroecology Theme, IOZ

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Secondary Supervisor:

Sarah Papworth

School of Biological Sciences, RHUL

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Project Description:

Determining factors that influence extinction vulnerability or resilience is a primary conservation goal. However, many species persist today in social-ecological systems with interacting ecological and anthropogenic processes. Understanding coexistence for biodiversity and human communities therefore requires interdisciplinary research, that draws upon both biological and social-science frameworks.

Wallacea, the remarkable island region between continental Asia and Australia, was formerly home to an evolutionary radiation of giant rats. Most species are now extinct, but Flores island still supports one giant rat, Papagomys armandvillei, the only survivor of a large-bodied vertebrate community that included the tiny hominin Homo floresiensis. The Flores giant rat is hunted extensively today by Indigenous Nage communities, but the social-ecological dynamics and sustainability of this human-wildlife interaction remain poorly understood.

The project will explore the ecological and social dimensions of Papagomys survival through time, to understand how this species avoided extinction and how threatened it might become from changing pressures. The comparative ecology of Papagomys and extinct giant rats will be reconstructed using multiple approaches to identify correlates of varying extinction risk. Conservation-relevant ecological parameters and habitat requirements of Papagomys will be determined through targeted fieldwork. Engagement with Nage communities will understand local ecological knowledge about Papagomys distribution and population trends, and the dynamics, drivers, key actors, cultural significance, and sustainability of Papagomys hunting in the face of encroaching globalisation (changing resource and land use). These complementary baselines will define the parameters of this Indigenous social-ecological system, to identify “win-win” solutions to sustain Papagomys whilst maintaining local cultural integrity.

Policy Impact of Research:

This project will establish a new baseline for understanding Papagomys threats and extinction risk, with findings used to update the species’ IUCN Red List assessment. Research will be conducted in collaboration with conservation partners, with outputs guiding development of a new management plan that accommodates local cultural and development needs.

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