School of Anthropology & Conservation

Excellence in diversity Global in reach



Dr David Roberts

Reader in Biodiversity Conservation

International wildlife trade; species detectability and extinction; orchid ecology; epiphyte communities and seed dispersal.


profile image for Dr David Roberts

School Roles and Responsibilities

Programme Convenor for Conservation and International Wildlife Trade

Academic Background

2013 MA in Higher Education (Kent)
2001 PhD ‘Reproductive Biology and Conservation of the Orchids of Mauritius’ (Aberdeen)
1997 MPhil ‘Analysis of Genetic Structure in Oak Woodlands of West Wales’ (Aberystwyth)
1996 BSc (Hons) Botany 2.1 (Aberystwyth)

Prior to moving to the University of Kent, I was a Senior Scientist in the orchid section of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, for over 8 years. During this time I conducted extensive fieldwork in Africa, Madagascar and Western Indian Ocean islands. Much of my initial work focussed on taxonomy and the uses of museum specimens in relation to conservation including modelling extinction, phenological responses to climate change and conservation status. Since moving to the University of Kent I have expanded within these areas of research, as well as moving into areas such as wildlife trade and technology developments in support of conservation. My main areas of research are currently: (1) New, extinct & rediscovered species, (2) Plant conservation (esp. orchids) and (3) Wildlife trade (especially illegal online trade).

Twitter: @DrDavidLRoberts
Google Scholar

back to top

Selected Recent Publications

Also view these in the Kent Academic Repository

Jarić, I. et al. (2019). On the overlap between scientific and societal taxonomic attentions — Insights for conservation. Science of the Total Environment [Online] 648:772-778. Available at:
Robinson, J. et al. (2018). Supplying the wildlife trade as a livelihood strategy in a biodiversity hotspot. Ecology and Society [Online] 23:13. Available at:
Robinson, J. et al. (2018). Wildlife supply chains in Madagascar from local collection to global export. Biological Conservation [Online] 226:144-152. Available at:
Hutchings, M. et al. (2018). Vulnerability of a specialized pollination mechanism to climate change revealed by a 356-year analysis. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society [Online] 186:498-509. Available at:
Roberts, D. and Hernandez-Castro, J. (2017). Bycatch and illegal wildlife trade on the dark web. Oryx [Online] 51:393-394. Available at:
Yeo, L., McCrea, R. and Roberts, D. (2017). A novel application of mark-recapture to examine behaviour associated with the online trade in elephant ivory. PeerJ [Online] 5:e3048. Available at:
Datasets / databases
Austen, G. et al. (2018). Species identification by conservation practitioners using online images: accuracy and agreement between experts. [MS Excel file]. Available at:
Alfino, S. and Roberts, D. (2018). Code word usage in the online ivory trade across four European Union member States. Oryx.
Showing 8 of 115 total publications in KAR. [See all in KAR]
back to top


Undergraduate modules:

DI311: The Green Planet (convener)

DI508 Skills for Conservation Biologists (convener)

Supervision of final year projects


Taught Masters Modules:

DI871: International Wildlife Trade - Achieving Sustainability (convenor)

DI881: Advanced Topics in Conservation Ecology and Management

DI883: Special Topics in Conservation (supervisor)

Supervision of research projects

back to top


I have a wide range of research interests: however, many fall into the following main themes:

Extinct speciesNew, extinct & 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 my work has been on developing methods for determining if a species is present, particularly species only known from a handful of sightings, i.e. if you have not seen a species for 20 years is it extinct? This has led on to the biases associated with the process of species discovery: for example. why is one species discovered before another? And what is the uncertainty surrounding the identify of individual sightings?

Active research: developing methods to measure sighting uncertainty; identifying how this uncertainty arises and how it impacts models; model accuracy in relation to type of data available; investigating movement behaviour in humans when surveying biodiversity.

Recent publications:

  • Black, S.A, Fellous, A., Yamaguchi, N., Roberts, D.L. (2013) Examining the extinction of Panthera leo in North Africa and its implications for lion conservation. PLoS ONE, 8:e60174. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0060174
  • Lee, T.E., McCarthy, M.A., Wintle, B., Roberts, D.L., Bode, M., Burgman, M.A. (2013) Inferring extinctions from sighting records of variable reliability. Journal of Applied Ecology, doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12144.
  • Roberts, D.L. (2013) Refuge-effect hypothesis and the demise of the Dodo. Conservation Biology, doi:10.1111/cobi.12134
  • Solow, A., Smith, W., Burgman, M.A., Rout, T., Wintle, B., Roberts, D.L. (2012) Uncertain sightings and the extinction of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis). Conservation Biology, 26:180-184.
  • Elphick, C.S., Roberts, D.L., Reed, J.M. (2010) Estimated dates of recent extinctions for North American and Hawaiian birds. Biological Conservation, 143:617-624.
  • Roberts, D.L., Elphick, C.S., Reed, J.M. (2010) Identifying anomalous reports of putatively extinct species and why it matters. Conservation Biology, 24:189-196.

OrchidPlant conservation (esp. orchids)

Much of my early work was on orchids, and I still maintain an interest. I have conducted fieldwork in Africa, Madagascar and the Western Indian Ocean islands. More recently I have become interested in modelling orchid seed dispersal. Having worked in a herbarium, I have an interest in the application of museum specimens to conservation questions, including phonological shifts associated with climate change and estimating a species' conservation status, as this is often the only data we have.

Active research: determining if data-deficient species are more likely to be critically endangered; developing technologies to detect poaching of cycads from the wild.

Recent publications:

  • Robbirt, K.M., Roberts, D.L., Hutchings, M.J., Davy, A. J. (2014) Potential disruption of pollination in a sexually deceptive orchid by climatic change. Current Biology, 24:2845-2849.
  • Gardiner, L.M., Motes, M., Emerson, B.C., Roberts, D.L., Kocyan, A. (2013) Molecular phylogenetics of Vanda and related genera (Orchidaceae). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 173:549-572.
  • Kindlmann, P., Roberts, D.L. (2012) When is an asymmetric plant-pollinator relationship symmetrical? European Journal of Environmental Sciences, 2:15-18.
  • Sanz, E., von Cramon-Taubadel, N., Roberts, D.L. (2012) Species differentiation of slipper orchids using color image analysis. Lankesteriana, 12:165-173.
  • Joppa, L.N., Roberts, D.L., Myers, N., Pimm, S.L. (2011) Biodiversity hotspots house most undiscovered plant species. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 108:13171-13176.
  • Joppa, L.N., Roberts, D.L., Pimm, S.L. (2011) How many species of flowering plants are there? Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 278:554-559.
  • Robbirt, K.M., Davy, A.J., Hutchings, M.J., Roberts, D.L. (2011) Validation of biological collections as a source of phenological data for use in climate change studies: a case study with the orchid Ophrys sphegodes. Journal of Ecology, 99:235-241.
  • Rivers, M., Taylor, L., Brummitt, N.A., Thomas, R.M., Roberts, D.L., Nic Lughadha, E. (2011) How many herbarium specimens are needed to detect threatened species? Biological Conservation, 144: 2541-2547.
  • Taylor, L., Roberts, D.L. (2011) Biological Flora of the British Isles: Epipogium aphyllum Sw. Journal of Ecology, 99:878-890.


Wildlife tradeWildlife trade

From my work on orchids I have become interested in the wildlife trade, in particular (a) identifying attributes that relate to demand and thus develop a tradeability index, (b) research surrounding illegal trade particularly over the internet, (c) developing technologies to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, and (d) how the wildlife trade relates to livelihoods along the supply chain. While my initial research was on orchids, I now work on a variety of species and their products including timber, ivory, reptiles, amphibians and other plant species.

Active research: application of stable isotopes to identify origin of timber, orchids and crocodile skins; identifying, estimating the preference of and developing software to detect illegal online trade; characterising the structure, actors and attribute demand in the wildlife supply chain for orchids, reptiles and ornamental fish.

Recent publications:

  • Hernandez-Castro, J., Roberts, D.L. (2015) Automatic detection of potentially illegal online sales of elephant ivory via data mining. PeerJ Computer Science, 1, e10.
  • Hinsley, A., Verissimo, D., Roberts, D.L. (2015) Heterogeneity in consumer preferences for orchids in international trade and the potential for the use of market research methods to study demand for wildlife. Biological Conservation, 190:80-86.
  • Robinson, J.E., Griffiths, R.A., John, F.A.S., Roberts, D.L. (2015) Dynamics of the global trade in live reptiles: Shifting trends in production and consequences for sustainability. Biological Conservation, 184:42-50.
  • Roberts, D.L., Solow, A.R. (2008) The effect of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species on scientific collections. Proceedings of the Royal Society B., 275:987-989.
  • McGough, H.N., Roberts, D.L., Brodie, C., Kowalczyk, J. (2006) CITES and Slipper Orchids - A User’s Guide. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom.

Please see the Publications tab for all my latest papers.

back to top

PhD (Current)

  • forest landscapeGail Austen-Price: ‘Eyeing-up Biodiversity: How we Identify Species'
  • Trang Nguyen: 'The impact of Traditional Chinese Medicine on African Wildlife: The role of East Asian immigrants'
  • Tristan Pett: ‘The benefits of biodiversity: understanding human-wildlife interactions in urban environments’
  • Helen Pheasey: 'Methods of, and motives for, laundering a wildlife commodity beyond captive farms'
  • Jack Slattery: Feasibility of reintroducing the red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) to Kent

PhD (Completed)

  • 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'

MSc by Research (Completed)

  • Declan Crace: 'The way you make me move: how people forage while surveying biodiversity'
  • Emma Ford: ‘Global internet-based trade in chameleons’
  • Lucy Smith: 'Mortality in the ornamental fish trade'
  • Anita Wan: ‘Drivers of the demand for the ornamental trade of discus fish between international markets’
  • Gemma Worswick: ‘Conservation genetics of reintroduced populations of Pulsatilla vulgaris
back to top

Academic Editorial Board – PeerJ
Editorial Board – Endangered Species Research
Advisor – Malesian Orchid Journal
Associate – Herbier de la Réunion

Association pour l’Étude Taxonomique de la Flore d’Afrique Tropicale
Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW)
Cyber Security Centre, University of Kent


back to top

I am available to provide commentary/in-depth discussion on the wildlife trade, new, extinct and rediscovered species, and plant conservation and climate change.


Here are some selected media links:

Film & Television

I have advised on films and TV dramas, including Pride & Prejudice, Silent Witness, and Waking the Dead. Other television work includes documentaries on: Darwin and orchids (BBC, 2007); Orchid pollination (Russian TV Channel 5, 2007); Year At Kew, series 1 and 2 (Orchid identification, the spirit collection and Madagascar) (BBC 1, 2003 and 2005)


  • BBC Radio 4, 2016:
  • Big Toe Show, BBC Radio 7, 5 appearances – 2003 and 2004 (childens radio – Carnivorous plants x 2, orchids, plants and extreme environments, expedition to Cameroon)

I was also the lead scientist in this court case:

back to top

School of Anthropology and Conservation - © University of Kent

School of Anthropology and Conservation, Marlowe Building, The University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NR, T: +44 (0)1227 827056

Last Updated: 12/12/2017