Portrait of Dr David Roberts

Dr David Roberts

Reader in Biodiversity Conservation
Programme Convenor for BSc Wildlife Conservation


Prior to moving to the University of Kent in 2010, Dr David Roberts spent over eight years at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew as a senior scientist in the orchid section. During this time, he conducted extensive fieldwork in Africa, Madagascar and the Western Indian Ocean islands. Much of this work focused on taxonomy and the uses of museum specimens in relation to conservation, including modelling extinction, phenological responses to climate change and conservation status. During this time, he also held the Hrdy Fellowship in Conservation Biology at Harvard University.

Since moving to the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent, he has continued working within these areas of research, as well as moving into areas investigating the wildlife trade and the psychology of species identification.

Research interests

Wildlife trade

Through his work on orchids at RGB Kew, David became interested in the wildlife trade, in particular: 

  • identifying attributes that relate to demand and thus develop a tradeability index
  • research surrounding illegal trade particularly over the internet
  • developing technologies to tackle the illegal wildlife trade
  • how the wildlife trade relates to livelihoods along the supply chain. 

While his initial research was on orchids, he now works on a variety of species and their products including ivory, reptiles, amphibians and other plant species.

Extinct and rediscovered species

Knowing if a species exists is important for conservation, whether it is a species at the edge of extinction or an invasive species.

Much of his work has been on developing methods for determining if a species is present, particularly species only known from a handful of sightings. In other words, if a species has not been seen for 20 years, is it extinct? More recently he has taken these principles related to rare events and end points, and applied it in the fields of archaeology, emerging infectious diseases and terrorism.

Psychology of species identification

Much of our understanding of the natural world is based on the correct identification of species. This leads to a series of questions: 

  • How are species identified?
  • To what extent do misidentifications occur?
  • What extent of errors are required to change conservation outcomes?

Currently he is focussing on the variation in error rates in identification of species and their implications


  • ANTS3080 Academic and Research Skills
  • DICE8710 International Wildlife Trade - Achieving Sustainability
  • DICE8770 Population and Evolutionary Biology
  • DICE8830 Special Topics in Conservation
  • DICE9980 Dissertation - Conservation
  • DICE1001 Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Conservation
  • WCON3111 Principles of Biogeography and Ecology
  • WCON5220 Research Project
  • WCON5321 Professional Placements


Dr David Roberts is interested in supervising students in any of the three research areas described above.

Current students (MSc-R and PhD)

  • Sospeter Kiambi: Human-elephant co-existence in a post-ivory ban landscape
  • Holly Harris: Wild Harvesting in Kent – human-nature interactions along the Kent coastline
  • Hermenegildo Matimele: Testing the effectiveness of different site-based biodiversity and conservation prioritisation approaches in Mozambique
  • Ruth Thompson: Identification of internet-based illegal wildlife trade through machine learning

PhD (completed)

  • Vince Chaipanich: Ecology and ex situ conservation of Vanilla siamensis Rolfe ex Downie
  • Trang Nguyen: The impact of traditional Chinese medicine on African wildlife: the role of East Asian immigrants
  • Helen Pheasey: Methods of, and motives for, laundering a wildlife commodity beyond captive farms
  • Laura Thomas-Walters: Social marketing and behaviour change for demand reduction in wildlife trade
  • Tristan Pett: The benefits of biodiversity: understanding human-wildlife interactions in urban environments
  • Gail Austen-Price: Eyeing-up biodiversity: how we identify species
  • Janine Robinson: Captive-farming in the exotic pet trade
  • Amy Hinsley: Characterising the formation and structure of international wildlife trade networks in the age of online communication
  • Hiro Shimai: Taxonomy, evolution & ecology of the genus Pinguicula
  • Sarah Stow: Bryophytes as environmental indicators of habitat quality: a new toolset for conservation assessment
  • Lydia Yeo: Application of mark-recapture models in assessing wildlife trade



Last updated