Interactions between environmental change and exploitation on tropical mammal megafauna.

CASE award Borneo Nature Foundation (STRUEBIG_K19ARIES)

Interactions between environmental change and exploitation on tropical mammal megafauna.

CASE award Borneo Nature Foundation (STRUEBIG_K19ARIES)

Project Description


Dr Matthew Struebig (University of Kent)

Dr Robert Fish (University of Kent)

Dr Freya A. V. St John (Bangor University)

Dr Susan Cheyne (Borneo Nature Foundation)

Dr Simon Tollington (Chester Zoo)

Ms Cat Barton (Chester Zoo)

An extinction crisis looms in Southeast Asia. While habitat loss and climate change are renowned threats to tropical biodiversity (Struebig 2015), many species are also hunted or persecuted. Recent increases in exploitation have resulted in defaunation and the ‘empty forest syndrome’, whereby dwindling vertebrate populations are extirpated, with potentially far-reaching ecosystem-level impacts. For example, Malayan sunbear (Helarctos malanayus) habitat is diminishing across its range, but bears also experience hunting for body parts, persecution as agricultural pests, and are bycatch in snares set for other wildlife. Despite clear urgency, the socio-ecological patterns and processes of defaunation remain poorly understood. This PhD will address this by applying innovative methods from the natural and social sciences to species monitoring and questionnaire data.

The student will utilise existing cameratrap data from eight forest sites across Indonesian Borneo (Cheyne 2016), ranging from degraded peatlands near cities to remote protected areas. They will also implement a new 5-month camera survey in a region thought to historically support low wildlife densities.

Together, spatio-temporal modelling of camera data will yield important information on how species occupancy and population size varies across a disturbance gradient. The analyses will focus on conservation flagships such as sunbears and orangutan, which are persecuted by people.

Working with established social scientists in Universities of Kent and Bangor, the student will also develop a questionnaire to investigate the prevalence of hunting and associated environmental and socio-economic variables in settlements around each site. Because hunting is typically illegal, the survey will incorporate innovative methods for asking sensitive questions (St John 2018). Surveys will be undertaken by local researchers in Indonesia, but the student will need to design the study and analyse the data.

Ultimately, the student will combine the ecological and social datasets to help determine the relative influence of environmental change and persecution on wildlife populations, and apply this information to inform wider conservation strategies in the region.

The successful candidate will be accustomed with the ecological and social dimensions of conservation. They will have strong analytical skills, including advanced GIS, and experience of tropical fieldwork.


  • Struebig, Linkie, Deere, Martyr, Millyanawati, Faulkner, Le Comber, Mangunjaya, Leader-Williams, McKay, and St John. (2018). Addressing human-tiger conflict using socio-ecological information on tolerance and risk. Nature Communications. 9, 3455.
  • St John, Linkie, Martyr, Milliyanawati, McKay, Mangunjaya, Leader-Williams and Struebig. (2018). Intention to kill: Tolerance and illegal persecution of Sumatran tigers and sympatric species. Conservation Letters.
  • Deere, Guillera-Arroita, Baking, Bernard, Pfeiffer, Reynolds, Wearn, Davies, Struebig. (2018) High Carbon Stock forests provide co-benefits for tropical biodiversity. Journal of Applied Ecology. 55, 997-1008.
  • Struebig, Wilting, Gaveau, Meijaard, Smith, Fischer, Cheyne, …. Kramer-Schadt (2015). Targeted conservation to safeguard a biodiversity hotspot from climate and land-cover change. Current Biology, 25, 372-378.
  • Cheyne, Sastramidjaja, Rayadin, and Macdonald. (2016) Mammalian communities as indicators of disturbance across Indonesian Borneo. Global Ecology and Conservation, 7, 57-173.

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