Tropical forests account for 7% of the world’s terrestrial surface area yet they sustain half of the planet’s biodiversity, and provide vital products and services at a global scale. As the sphere of anthropogenic influence continues to expand, natural tropical forests are being displaced by human-modified landscapes, resulting in biodiversity loss and the potential breakdown of ecosystem services. Ecosystem service-orientated policies, such as REDD+, have emerged as a popular strategy to mitigate tropical forest loss and seek to assign economic value to natural capital, thus providing financial incentives for conservation. One key assumption of REDD+ is the delivery of ecological co-benefits, whereby forest protection/restoration to enhance carbon stocks will also conserve biodiversity. Global-scale analyses have highlighted the potential for tropical regions to deliver win-win conservation outcomes, yet coarse-scale methodologies that have been adopted mask local variation. Consequently, further investigation is required to determine spatial concordance between ecosystem services and biodiversity at the scale of a typical conservation management unit.
Medium to large terrestrial mammals represent a model study system for such an investigation since they have substantial ecological roles in tropical forest ecosystems, are frequently prioritized by conservation assessments, and can serve as flagship species to reflect the needs of other taxa. Furthermore, their numerical and distributional spatial signatures over a landscape may reflect a cause or effect of compromised ecosystem functioning. My PhD research will address these concerns by assessing the spatial congruence between mammalian diversity and forest carbon stocks at a fine landscape scale. In so doing, I aim to understand the ecological response of tropical forest mammals to a gradient of landscape disturbance, but also the extent to which this variation in mammal diversity is associated with the carbon provisions prioritized by REDD+ policies.
The study is based at the Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems project (www.safeproject.net) in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, in collaboration with the Southeast Asian Rainforest Research Programme, The Forest Trust Indonesia and colleagues at Universiti Malaysia Sabah and Imperial College London. I am instigating a camera trapping and acoustic monitoring campaign at SAFE and the wider landscape to test for covariation between biodiversity and carbon stocks. This dataset will also be used in additional analyses concerning connectivity and spatial planning for the landscape. My work is part of the NERC Human-Modified Tropical Forest Programme (http://lombok.hmtf.info/).
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