Year of selection 2016
Institution Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London
Country United Kingdom
Around the world, tropical forests are becoming increasingly fragmented in a sea of human activity. Deforestation, agriculture and tree plantations are progressively eating away at the forest, leaving only islands of untouched land. Despite the considerable risk to wildlife populations this represents, our capacity to forecast both the short and long-term damages is currently very poor. In Southeast Asia, where the rates of tropical forest loss and degradation in recent decades have been the highest in the world, more expertise is urgently needed. Dr. Oliver Wearn aims to contribute to filling this gap. His goal is to create models capable of predicting the evolution of wildlife populations in fragmented landscapes in order to assess the risk of short and long-term biodiversity loss in fragmented tropical landscapes.
Filling the research gap on fragmented landscapes in Southeast Asia
“While a relatively large amount of evidence has been collected on fragmentation for Latin America, for Southeast Asia we have much more limited knowledge, mostly just snapshot studies dotted around the region” Dr. Oliver Wearn points out. “”I’m interested in whether small protected areas, as well as areas set aside by industry, can hold onto their species into the future. By collecting data in different landscapes in the region, and building statistical models, we can answer the question.””. To create these models, a lot of his work will consist of collecting new data on biodiversity, with a particular focus on mammals, using camera-trapping, aerial views and live-trapping.
Besides providing a more comprehensive picture of the effects of fragmentation in Southeast Asia, Dr. Oliver Wearn’s project stands out due to the incorporation of a time component. Indeed, his models will not only be informed by actual observations on the ground, but also by the history of the landscape. “By knowing the past, you can better predict the future,” argues Dr. Wearn. To achieve this, the project will use historical data collected in the region, as well as past satellite images and aerial work, including NASA’s open access archives.
Providing a framework for effective and crucial policy and decision-making
Dr. Wearn’s research has far-reaching implications. Biodiversity loss brings about an extensive list of adverse consequences for wildlife populations such as reduced area of habitat, cut-off populations, changes in environment, inbreeding. Moreover, fauna and flora are not the only collateral damage. Fragmentation also represents an important risk to society in terms of human health and well-being. By creating models which can effectively forecast biodiversity persistence in Southeast Asia, Dr. Oliver Wearn’s long-term objective is to enable effective policy and decision-making in the region. “My career goal is to provide a framework for governments, industries and other stakeholders to take decisions,” he explains. Therefore, the project will include clear management recommendations for end-users, including protected area managers and sustainability certification schemes.