- James Watson, Wildlife Conservation Society
National parks are the cornerstone of modern conservation efforts. They now cover more than 10% of the Earth’s land surface, and are found on every continent (and sea) on the planet.
We can prove that these national parks stop human destruction of habitat, and we can prove that they benefit the lives and livelihoods of people who visit and surround them. However, we cannot yet prove that they have stopped the extinction of a single species. This is not because we don’t believe that they have helped. Instead, it’s because it’s so hard to prove a negative – that a species that was about to go extinct did not, because it was protected by national parks.
Recent research has produced large, complex machine learning tools (Boosted Regression Trees) that predict a species’ level of threat (as defined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a.k.a. the RedList). They can also predict the probability that a species will become more threatened in the future, or will go extinct. We will use this new technique to answer important and outstanding questions in conservation science.
The project will extend existing statistical methods to predict:
- the conservation status of threatened animal species in the presence of the existing international reserve system
- the conservation status of the same threatened animal species in its absence
These different predictions will help us understand the degree to which national park systems have saved species from extinction.
The project will begin by focusing on mammalian predators in Africa (e.g., lions, wild dogs, hyena).
The project will estimate the contribution of the Earth’s national parks to the conservation of threatened species. Given the central role of national parks to global conservation, these results will offer important support for their current and future existence.
Skills and experience
The project will offer training in new statistical methods (e.g., machine learning tools). It will introduce the candidate to ideas in conservation science, including spatial conservation prioritisation. The project will be undertaken in collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society, and will therefore result in experience working with and understanding the goals of international conservation organisations and modern conservation science.
You may be able to apply for a research scholarship in our annual scholarship round.
Contact the supervisor for more information.