Monitoring changes in species distribution and abundance is central to the sustainable management of natural resources and the definition of conservat

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Zoology


Monitoring changes in species distribution and abundance is central to the sustainable management of natural resources
and the definition of conservation goals. However for many rare, widespread and cryptic species, monitoring over large
spatiotemporal scales remains a serious challenge. A growing and increasingly complex set of analytical tools exists that
can be used to estimate the abundance, density or occupancy of species across landscapes. The technical literature on
these methods emphasises the absolute necessity of controlling statistically for variation in detectability. Without this, real
trends in abundance cannot be separated from confounding trends in detectability, potentially leading to mistaken
conclusions. Robustly distinguishing variations in abundance from detectability requires that specific assumptions are
satisfied, which in turn requires rigorous design and application of field methods. In practice, this usually means that
surveys are designed and executed by professional ecologists, and have very substantial labour costs, particularly when
executed over large scales.
In response to this cost constraint, another strand of the monitoring literature emphasises practicality. While recognising the
desirability of robust, unbiased monitoring methods, these studies point out such approaches are pointless if they are too
expensive to be applied over sufficiently large spatial and temporal scales to provide the information needed for
management. This is particularly true in developing countries, where funding is usually limited and intermittent, and
management priorities often demand information over large areas of remote, inaccessible terrain.
Tension thus exists between those advocating monitoring methods that are, above all, accurate, and those who rather emphasise long-term cost effectiveness. While monitoring methods can be both accurate and affordable in some
circumstances, the tradeoff between cost and accuracy is nonetheless a pervasive and unresolved problem in biodiversity
monitoring. One approach to more sustainable monitoring has been involving local people. The benefits of this can be twofold:
reducing labour costs, and facilitating the translation of monitoring results into effective management action. However,
it remains important to structure information gathering to maximise accuracy. While there are some good examples of the
integration of local participation into ecological monitoring, it remains underdeveloped, and many questions remain about
its effective application.
This study will develop a new method for monitoring widespread animal populations in developing countries; interviewbased
occupancy analysis. We aim to: test the approach with a range of species at different levels of density and spatial
distribution; assess the sources of variation in detectability, both biophysical and observer-based; quantify trade-offs
between cost, precision and accuracy for different species and observer types (e.g. rangers vs pastoralist vs NTFP
collectors); make recommendations for future implementation of the approach.
The study will be carried out in partnership with a ZSL project in Benin, which aims to strengthen conservation of the WArly-
Pendjari conservation complex, globally recognised as a conservation priority. That project aims to support Protected
Area management and protection, improve understanding of local community use of natural resources and explore options
for integrating community centred resource management into land use planning. Specifically this PhD research will help
the project meet key objectives regarding wildlife population monitoring and engaging local communities in management.
More broadly this research will have widescale applicability by advancing methodologies appropriate for efficient monitoring
of wildlife populations at a large spatial scale under limited time and financial resources.
Description 1. We assessed the effects of hunter and village level variables on the spatial and temporal trends in bushmeat hunting at two contrasting study sites within the same ecosystem. We find that socioecological system (SES) frameworks are a useful tool to piece together evidence to help us understand hunting sustainability, given how challenging monitoring sustainability can be in forest environments. Hunters in both villages use hunting for food and livelihoods. However, both study sites present different sustainability challenges due to differences in the way that hunter, village and external pressures interact. The use of an SES framework allowed me to investigate the influence of variables at different scales. Future studies on bushmeat hunting will also benefit from using such an approach, which allows for a more holistic view of sustainability than biological measures alone, and allows for recommendations on how the system in question could be brought back in line with sustainability if required.

2. Experts are commonly called upon to make judgements and estimations in conservation based on their prior experience (Burgman et al 2011; Martin et al 2012). This is especially useful in the face of rapidly changing systems, remote locations and often restricted budgets which make collecting robust and up to date empirical data for conservation purposes at times highly challenging. This study provides the first known application of modern structured expert knowledge elicitation techniques outside of a conventional expert context. An important conclusion from this research is that pooled opinion, while not always capturing the 'truth', did often perform better than the top experts, who tended to overestimate more than the pooled estimate. This finding supports the 'wisdom of the crowd' phenomenon (Suroeiki 2004) and provides additional evidence that gathering judgements from groups results in more consistent estimates than relying on estimates from a handful of self and peer identified experts (Hemming et al 2018; van der Hoeven 2004; Armstrong, 2001).
Exploitation Route 1. For other researchers looking to assess the sustainability of busuhmeat hunting, I hope that this research will contribute to the body of work that shows how researchers must consider ecological and social data, as well as biological, in order to truely understand the drivers of change and assess the resilience of a system in the face of rapid change. This work will be written as a paper, and the findings will be presented at conferences over the next few years.

2. This research is the first to apply modern structured elicitation methods to help respondents to engage with uncertainty and provide the most robust estimates possible. I hope that the approach presented in this work, once written into a paper, will be used by researchers engaging with local people for conservation, to improve the robustness of data obtained from local experts.
Sectors Environment,Other

Description Jana Robeyst Small Grant
Amount € 1,500 (EUR)
Organisation Jana Robeyst Trust Fund 
Start 05/2017 
End 05/2018
Description Rufford small grant
Amount £5,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 23269-1 
Organisation Rufford Small Grants Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
End 09/2018
Title Interview Based Occupancy Analysis 
Description Combining interview data with occupancy analysis is a method growing in popularity for the assessment of wildlife status, distribution and relative abundance. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2015 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Combining interview data with occupancy analysis is a method growing in popularity for the assessment of wildlife status, distribution and relative abundance. However, there are no studies that attempt to assess the robustness of this method and the ways in which the method can be best implemented for reliable results. My current research is contributing to this knowledge. As soon as my research is completed, the results will be published to help guide other researchers using this method to achieve the most reliable results possible. 
Title Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants 
Description The findings of my published paper on forest elephant status, distribution and relative abundance in Cameroon is being incorporated in the the MIKE IUCN database. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact People accessing data on the IUCN MIKE database will have access to my data on forest elephant distribution, threats and status from 2008-2013 across a large forested area in Cameroon. This data can be used to guide targeted forest elephant conservation action, and better understand the threats posed to forest elephants in the region 
Description Supervision and CASE industry partner 
Organisation Zoological Society of London
Department Institute of Zoology
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution I have taken an active role in life at IoZ, traveling to london on a monthly basis to work with my colleagues in London and form good working relationships. I have given 2 presentations at the IoZ on my work and engaged with teaching groups of MSc students.
Collaborator Contribution My second supervisor Dr Marcus Rowcliffe is based at IoZ in London. He has been actively involved in guiding me with the development of methods and assisted with analysis of data.
Impact Paper coauthored by myself, Dr Marcus Rowcliffe at IoZ and my other supervisors.
Start Year 2015
Description ZSL Cameroon 
Organisation Zoological Society of London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Learned Society 
PI Contribution I work closely with other ZSL Cameroon staff members when I am in the office in Cameroon. I have given training in occupancy analysis to the team, taken part in training days for safety in the field and write reports on my key findings and field experiences that are useful for other team members when they then engage in the same communities I've been working in.
Collaborator Contribution ZSL Cameroon have greatly helped with my field logistics, including allowing me access to a car, driver and desk space when in Cameroon.
Impact Written a paper with ZSL staff member, blogs for the ZSL Africa website and planning a further two papers with ZSL staff members on the monitoring of African Golden Cats in the Dja Faunal Reserve.
Start Year 2015
Description Bushmeat specialist working group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Attended the bushmeat specialist working group meeting at ZSL in 2017, where I talked about my current research and how my work could feed into the working groups activities and research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Conservation Optimism 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact On the organizing committee for the Conservation Optimism conference, an interdisciplinary conference of talks, films, presentations, posters, art and performance that aimed to reach previously unengaged groups into a conversation round conservation, from a more positive perspective. Constant negative messaging can leave people feeling hopeless, and feel that there is nothing they can do on an individual level to contribute towards conservation. This conference aimed to share the need for conservation in a more upbeat way, learning from successes and failures to progress together. A survey was shared after the conference which showed that people left the conference with a more positive view of conservation and importantly, what they can do to help.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Mentoring at ZSL 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Gave a presentation about my work and mentored a group of students over the course of one week to help with a systematic review of literature around the use of local knowledge for population monitoring. Students were exposed to new literature and methods that they were previously unfamiliar with, and two students have since engaged in projects involving social methods for conservation research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Presentation at University in Cameroon 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Given two presentation at the Higher Institute of Environmental Sciences on the aim and objectives of my research and its importance (2016) and again presenting the key initial findings (2018). Students asked many questions at the end of the talk about the research and I have been since contacted my see of the pupils to find out more about my research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2018
Description Teaching at Imperial College London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Taught a two hour session on my research and on issues of detectability when monitoring species diversity. I was asked to come back again this year to teach again and the students have since contacted me asking for volunteer work and to find out more about the method I am developing to use for their projects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018