Dr Charlie Gardner is an interdisciplinary researcher, conservationist and activist with a particular interest in societal responses to the climate and biodiversity emergencies. From 2005 to 2015, he was based in Madagascar, where he worked with WWF and other NGOs on the country’s ambitious ‘Durban Vision’, to triple the extent of the protected area network. Charlie has also worked in conservation and natural resource management in Mauritius, Kenya, Ghana, England and Scotland. 

Having completed a BSc in Zoology at the University of Leeds, Charlie studied for an MSc in Conservation Biology at DICE in 2002. He returned to Kent to carry out his doctoral research in 2009, submitting his thesis entitled ‘Reconciling conservation and development in Madagascar’s rapidly expanding protected area system’ in 2014. Having completed his PhD, he returned to the School of Anthropology and Conservation at Kent in 2016 in a part-time teaching and scholarship role, but he continues to pursue collaborative research projects (largely focused on Madagascar) and work as a consultant to Blue Ventures and other organisations, alongside climate activism work. 

Charlie enjoys communicating conservation and climate issues to broader audiences and has written for The Guardian, The Conversation, The Ecologist and Mongabay, as well as appearing on a range of TV and radio broadcasts. His book Life Amongst the Thorns – Biodiversity and Conservation of Madagascar’s Spiny Forest (co-authored with his wife, the photographer Louise Jasper) was published in 2015 by John Beaufoy. 

Dr Charlie Gardner is a member of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology.  

Research interests

Although Dr Gardner’s role within SAC is focused on teaching and scholarship, he continues to carry out research outside the School. His research interests span traditional conservation biology and conservation social science, and he seeks to advance the practice and theory of protected area governance and management, small-scale fisheries, the impacts of natural resource use on biodiversity, and community-based natural resource management and conservation. He is also interested in approaches that help span the researcher–practitioner divide for more effective, evidence-based conservation.



  • DI303: Survey and Monitoring for Biodiversity
  • DI305: Biodiversity
  • DI501: Climate Change and Conservation
  • DI518: Contemporary Conservation Science
  • DI520: Conservation and Communities


  • DI880: Conservation and Community Development (Guest Lecturer)
  • DI1001: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Conservation (Guest Lecturer)


Executive Editor, Madagascar Conservation & Development

Dr Gardner is available to provide topical comment or in-depth discussion of topics related to protected areas, or the biodiversity of Madagascar and its conservation.

He has contributed articles about his research to outlets including The ConversationThe Ecologist and Africa Geographic.



  • Gardner, C., Struebig, M. and Davies, Z. (2020). Conservation must capitalise on climate’s moment. Nature Communications [Online] 11:109. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-13964-y.
    The health of the natural environment has never been a greater concern, but attention to biodiversity loss is being eclipsed by the climate crisis. We argue that conservationists must seize the agenda to put biodiversity at the heart of climate policy.
  • Gardner, C., Bicknell, J., Baldwin-Cantello, W., Struebig, M. and Davies, Z. (2019). Quantifying the impacts of defaunation on natural forest regeneration in a global meta-analysis. Nature Communications [Online] 10:4590. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-12539-1.
    Intact forests provide diverse and irreplaceable ecosystem services that are critical to human well-being, such as carbon storage to mitigate climate change. However, the ecosystem functions that underpin these services are highly dependent on the woody vegetation-animal interactions occurring within forests. While vertebrate defaunation is of growing policy concern, the effects of vertebrate loss on natural forest regeneration have yet to be quantified globally. Here we conduct a meta-analysis to assess the direction and magnitude of defaunation impacts on forests. We demonstrate that real-world defaunation caused by hunting and habitat fragmentation leads to reduced forest regeneration, although manipulation experiments provide contrasting findings. The extirpation of primates and birds cause the greatest declines in forest regeneration, emphasising their key role in maintaining carbon stores, and the need for national and international climate change and conservation strategies to protect forests from defaunation fronts as well as deforestation fronts.
  • Gardner, C. and Wordley, C. (2019). Scientists must act on our own warnings to humanity. Nature Ecology & Evolution [Online] 3:1271-1272. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-019-0979-y.
    We face interconnected planetary emergencies threatening our climate and ecosystems. Charlie J. Gardner and Claire F. R. Wordley argue that scientists should join civil disobedience movements to fight these unprecedented crises.
  • Gardner, C., Nicoll, M., Birkinshaw, C., Harris, A., Lewis, R., Rakotomalala, D. and Ratsifandrihamanana, A. (2018). The rapid expansion of Madagascar’s protected area system. Biological Conservation [Online] 220:29-36. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2018.02.011.
    Protected areas (PAs) are our principal conservation strategy and are evolving rapidly, but we know little about the real-world management and governance of new forms. We review the evolution of Madagascar’s PA system from 2003-2016 based on our experience as practitioners involved. During this period PA coverage quadrupled and the network of strict, centrally-governed protected areas expanded to include sites characterized by: i) multiple-use management models in which sustainable extractive natural resource uses are permitted, ii) shared governance arrangements involving non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local community associations, and iii) a management emphasis on livelihood-based approaches and social safeguards. We discuss the principal challenges for the effectiveness of the expanded system and detail management/policy responses. These include i) enhancing stakeholder participation, ii) ensuring financial sustainability, iii) enforcing rules, iv) ensuring the ecological sustainability of PAs faced with permitted resource extraction, v) reducing the natural resource dependence of local communities through transformative livelihood change, and vi) developing long-term visions to reconcile the differing objectives of conservation NGOs and other stakeholders. In general PAs have had limited effectiveness in reducing deforestation and other threats, which may be related to their rapid establishment processes and the complexity of management towards multiple objectives, coupled with insufficient resources. While Madagascar’s achievements provide a basis for conserving the country’s biodiversity, the challenge faced by its protected areas will continue to grow.
  • Gardner, C., Waeber, P., Razafindratsima, O. and Wilmé, L. (2018). Decision complacency and conservation planning. Conservation Biology [Online] 32:1469-1472. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13124?.
    Article impact statement: : Conservation planners must use systematic decision?making tools and evidence to guide their decisions.
  • Schierwater, B., Waeber, P., Gardner, C., Lourenço, W. and Wilmé, L. (2017). On specimen killing in the era of conservation crisis – A quantitative case for modernizing taxonomy and biodiversity inventories. PLOS ONE [Online] 12:e0183903. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0183903.
    Background to the work: For centuries taxonomy has relied on dead animal specimens, a practice that persists today despite the emergence of innovative biodiversity assessment methods. Taxonomists and conservationists are engaged in vigorous discussions over the necessity of killing animals for specimen sampling, but quantitative data on taxonomic trends and specimen sampling over time, which could inform these debates, are lacking.

    Methods: We interrogated a long-term research database documenting 2,723 land vertebrate and 419 invertebrate taxa from Madagascar, and their associated specimens conserved in the major natural history museums. We further compared specimen collection and species description rates for the birds, mammals and scorpions over the last two centuries, to identify trends and links to taxon descriptions.

    Results: We located 15,364 specimens documenting endemic mammals and 11,666 specimens documenting endemic birds collected between 1820 and 2010. Most specimens were collected at the time of the Mission Zoologique Franco-Anglo-Américaine (MZFAA) in the 1930s and during the last two decades, with major differences according to the groups considered. The small mammal and bat collections date primarily from recent years, and are paralleled by the description of new species. Lemur specimens were collected during the MZFAA but the descriptions of new taxa are recent, with the type series limited to non-killed specimens. Bird specimens, particularly of non-passerines, are mainly from the time of the MZFAA. The passerines have also been intensely collected during the last two decades; the new material has been used to solve the phylogeny of the groups and only two new endemic taxa of passerine birds have been described over the last two decades.

    Conclusions: Our data show that specimen collection has been critical for advancing our understanding of the taxonomy of Madagascar’s biodiversity at the onset of zoological work in Madagascar, but less so in recent decades. It is crucial to look for alternatives to avoid killing animals in the name of documenting life, and encourage all efforts to share the information attached to historical and recent collections held in natural history museums. In times of conservation crisis and the advancement in digital technologies and open source sharing, it seems obsolete to kill animals in well-known taxonomic groups for the sake of enriching natural history collections around the world.
  • Veron, G., Dupré, D., Jennings, A., Gardner, C., Hassanin, A. and Goodman, S. (2017). New insights into the systematics of Malagasy mongoose-like carnivorans (Carnivora, Eupleridae, Galidiinae) based on mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequences. Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research [Online] 55:250-264. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/jzs.12168.
    The Malagasy carnivorans (Eupleridae) comprise seven genera and up to ten species, depending on the authority, and, within the past decades, two new taxa have been described. The family is divided into two subfamilies, the Galidiinae, mongoose-like animals, and the Euplerinae, with diverse body forms. To verify the taxonomic status of Galidiinae species, including recently described taxa, as well as some recognized subspecies, we studied intrageneric genetic variation and structure, using both mitochondrial and nuclear markers. Our results suggest the recognition of four species in the Galidiinae, rendering each genus monospecific. We propose to recognize three subspecies in Galidia elegans (G. e. dambrensis, G. e. elegans, and G. e. occidentalis), two subspecies in Mungotictis decemlineata (M. d. decemlineata and M. d. lineata), and two subspecies in Galidictis fasciata (G. f. fasciata and G. f. grandidieri, the latter was recently described as a distinct species). Our results indicate also that Salanoia durrelli should be treated as a junior synonym of Salanoia concolor. Low levels of intraspecific divergence revealed some geographical structure for the Galidiinae taxa, suggesting that environmental barriers have isolated certain populations in recent geological time. All taxa, whether at the species or subspecies level, need urgent conservation attention, particularly those with limited geographical distributions, as all are threatened by forest habitat degradation.
  • Murphy, A., Ferguson, B. and Gardner, C. (2017). Recent Estimates of Ring-Tailed Lemur (Lemur catta) Population Declines are Methodologically Flawed and Misleading. International Journal of Primatology [Online] 38:623-628. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10764-017-9967-8.
  • Virah-Sawmy, M., Gillson, L., Gardner, C., Anderson, A., Clark, G. and Haberle, S. (2015). A landscape vulnerability framework for identifying integrated conservation and adaptation pathways to climate change: the case of Madagascar’s spiny forest. Landscape Ecology [Online] 31:637-654. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-015-0269-2.

    Integrated conservation decision-making frameworks that help to design or adjust practices that are cognisant of environmental change and adaptation are urgently needed.


    We demonstrate how a landscape vulnerability framework combining sensitivity, adaptive capacity, and exposure to climate change framed along two main axes of concern can help to identify potential strategies for conservation and adaptation decision-making, using a landscape in Madagascar’s spiny forest as a case-study.


    To apply such a vulnerability landscape assessment, we inferred the sensitivity of habitats using temporal and spatial botanical data-sets, including the use of fossil pollen data and vegetation surveys. For understanding adaptive capacity, we analysed existing spatial maps (reflecting anthropogenic stressors) showing the degree of habitat connectivity, matrix quality and protected area coverage for the different habitats in the landscape. Lastly, for understanding exposures, we used climate change predictions in Madagascar, together with a digital elevation model.


    The fossil pollen data showed how sensitive arid-adapted species were to past climate changes, especially the conditions between 1000 and 500 cal yr BP. The spatial analysis then helped locate habitats on the two-dimensional axes of concern integrating sensitivity, adaptive capacity and climate change exposure. By identifying resistant, resilient, susceptible, and sensitive habitats to climate change in the landscape under study, we identify very different approaches to integrate conservation and adaptation strategies in contrasting habitats.


    This framework, illustrated through a case study, provides easy guidance for identifying potential integrated conservation and adaptation strategies, taking into account aspects of climate vulnerability and conservation capacity.
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