PhD project: Interactions between environmental change and exploitation on Borneo’s mammalian megafauna

South East Asia is currently undergoing an extinction crisis due to intensifying environmental and anthropogenic pressures. Specifically, large mammals face multiple threats due to habitat loss, climate change, unsustainable hunting and illegal poaching. For example, the Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malanayus) is losing habitat across its range due to unprecedented rates of deforestation, but it is also at threat from hunting for body parts and persecution as agricultural pests. 

These pressures result in defaunation or 'empty-forest syndrome' in some of the world’s most biodiverse regions. To address this urgent issue, Katie's research will aim to determine the relative influence of environmental change and persecution on wildlife populations, predominately targeting flagship species such as the sun-bear and orang-utan in Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan). She will take an interdisciplinary approach by combining the natural and social sciences to understand which species and which regions of Kalimantan are most at risk. 

Katie will combine an existing camera-trap dataset from eight forest sites across a disturbance gradient in Kalimantan with two new camera-trap surveys to determine environmental influences on large mammal occupancy. In 2020, she will re-sample one of the existing sites to investigate temporal change and, in 2021, implement a new camera survey in a previously unsampled region. Additionally, a questionnaire will be designed using innovative methods for asking sensitive questions, to investigate the prevalence of hunting and mammal exploitation in the area. 

Ultimately, this research project will combine ecological and social datasets to determine the combined and relative impacts of environmental change and persecution on threatened mammalian megafauna, helping inform wider conservation strategies in the region and target high-risk areas of defaunation. 

Katie Spencer is a member of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology.


Dr Matthew Struebig
Dr Tatyana Humle
Dr Susan Cheyne
Dr Freya St. John


NERC ARIES DTP CASE partnership with Chester Zoo and Borneo Nature Foundation

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