The fate of the world's largest carnivores: understanding declines and recoveries.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Sch of Biological Sciences

Abstract

Large carnivores, such as lions and tigers, are charismatic species that draw considerable public attention and can be celebrated as flagship species, but also be feared and cause human-wildlife conflicts. This love/hate relationship means carnivore conservation can be challenging. Yet, large carnivores can play critical roles in their ecosystems and their decline can significantly influence ecosystem processes and functions. A series of recent studies have provided contrasting evidence regarding the conservation status of large carnivores showing both recovery as well as severe declines [1, 2]. These different patterns often reflect studies in distinct areas of the world and thus, likely different management strategies and human perceptions of carnivore species. However, not all areas in which carnivores exist are well represented in these analyses. In addition, there are also contrasting trends within regions among species which may be explained by differences in species' behavioural and ecological traits.
This project will address 4 main goals contributing to the academic literature as well as management and conservation policy.
1) Characterize global conservation status for large terrestrial carnivore (Class Mammalia; families Felidae, Canidae, Ursidae, and Hyaenidae) explicitly quantifying within-species spatial variability in trends (different trends for a given species across regions) and within-region taxonomic variability (different trends for species within the same region).
2) Quantify data gaps and identify potential taxonomic and spatial biases that can hinder macroecological studies and bias perception of conservation status [3]. Validate methods to address data limitations expanding on work by Dr. Isaac for presence/absence data to trait and trend data [4].
3) Develop predictive models of carnivore conservation status based on 3 main sets of predictors: (a) environmental conditions (NDVI, temperature, precipitation); (b) human impacts (land use, socio-economic indicators, human-wildlife conflict); and (c) carnivore life-history, ecological and behavioural traits (using an unpublished trait database). With Dr. Gonzalez-Suarez the student will evaluate phylogenetically- and/or taxonomically-corrected regression models [5] and phylogenetic structural equation models [6] exploring their potential as predictive tools in conservation and proposing modifications or new statistical approaches (with Dr Isaac) to alleviate data limitations and to evaluate region- and taxa-specific prediction.
4) Map population trend delineating global risk-hotspots (where carnivores are declining) and safe-havens (where increases are the norm).
In addition to working with the listed supervisors (with combined expertise in quantitative ecology, macroecology and conservation), the student will have the opportunity for funded visits to the Instituto de Biologia Subtropical in Argentina (Drs. Agustin Paviolo and Mario Di Bitetti) to learn about ongoing research on large South American carnivores (including jaguar and puma) and challenges in diverse but understudied areas of the world.
References
1. Chapron, G., et al. (2014). Science, 346:1517-1519
2. Ripple, W.J., et al. (2014). Science, 343:1241484
3. González-Suárez, M., et al. (2012). J Anim Ecol, 81:1211-1222
4. Isaac, N.J.B., et al. (2014). Meth Ecol Evol, 5:1052-1060
5. González-Suárez, M. and E. Revilla. (2013). Ecol Lett, 16:242-251
6. Gonzalez-Voyer, A., et al. (2016). Evolution, 70:1364-1375

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
NE/P012345/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2023
1947053 Studentship NE/P012345/1 01/10/2017 31/07/2021 Thomas Frederick Johnson
 
Description CITES - Automated data extraction 
Organisation United Nations (UN)
Department UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution As part of the NERC QMEE tiger team, we created a program to rapidly profile the trade and conservation status of any species of bird.
Collaborator Contribution CITES have direction. Other tiger team members contributed equally.
Impact We created a program for internal CITES use.
Start Year 2018