Restoring tropical biodiversity, carbon stores and forest integrity through ecosystem restoration licences


Restoring tropical biodiversity, carbon stores and forest integrity through ecosystem restoration licences


Project Description


Professor Zoe Davies, University of Kent – Contact me

Dr Matthew Struebig, SAC/DICE University of Kent

Dr Jake Bicknell, DICE-Kent


Deforestation and forest degradation are key causes of carbon emissions and biodiversity decline in tropical countries. Tackling these challenges requires innovative ways to manage disturbed habitats. Ecosystem restoration licenses (ERLs) offer a commercial mechanism through which degraded forest can be restored back to ecological equilibrium. Pioneered by Indonesia, ERLs could herald an era of improved forest management across the tropics. Nonetheless, key questions remain regarding their effectiveness.

RSPB’s Harapan Rainforest restoration project in Sumatra provides an excellent case study, as the first ERL in Indonesia operating for 95-years. This PhD will examine the likely effectiveness of ERLs in achieving positive ecological outcomes (e.g. carbon storage, biodiversity and forest regeneration) and how best to finance these objectives at Harapan.


The student will analyse longitudinal biodiversity (bird and mammal) datasets from Harapan, assessing how they relate to different restoration activities and human pressures in the wider landscape. The student will also contribute to ongoing biodiversity surveys (e.g. camera trapping, bioacoustics). Using these data, a series of biodiversity indicators will be derived that will feed into the long-term monitoring strategy for the site. Ecological economic approaches will be used to collate and analyse restoration/management cost data forest for Harapan. By integrating this with remote-sensed data (e.g. satellite imagery, drone footage) on forest degradation/regeneration, the cost-effectiveness of the restoration activities can be investigated. This will provide critical information that will inform the establishment of sustainable finance mechanisms (e.g. voluntary carbon markets) for ERLs. Finally, the student will have the opportunity to examine the ecological outcomes of ERLs across Indonesia by conducting an impact evaluation using statistical spatial matching, complementing the case study research.


The student will receive extensive training in advanced analytical skills (e.g. R and GIS) , plus academic skills (e.g. writing journal papers, giving conference presentations). Additionally, they will gain transferable skills (e.g. time management, collaboration NGO partners).

Person Specification

The student will be interested in combining ecological data with management cost information to produce high-impact, policy-relevant research. They will have a degree in conservation, ecology or environmental sciences, with experience of conducting ecological fieldwork and strong analytical skills (including GIS).


  • 1 Budiharta S, Meijaard E, Gaveau D, Struebig M […] & Wilson KA. (2018) Restoration to offset the impacts of developments at a landscape scale reveals opportunities, challenges and tough choices, Global Environmental Change, 52, 152-161
  • 2 Harrison R, Swinfield T, Ayat A, Dewi S, Silalahi M, Heriansyah I. (2020). Restoration concessions: a second lease on life for beleaguered tropical forests? Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 18, 567–575Harrison R, Swinfield T, Ayat A, Dewi S, Silalahi M, Heriansyah I. (2020). Restoration concessions: a second lease on life for beleaguered tropical forests? Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 18, 567–575
  • 3 Bicknell, J., O’Hanley, J., Armsworth, P, Slade, E., Deere, N., Mitchell, S., Hemprich-Bennett, D., Kemp, V., Rossiter, S., Lewis, O., Coomes, D., Agama, A., Reynolds, G., Struebig, M., Davies, Z. (2023). Enhancing the ecological value of oil palm agriculture through set-asides. Nature Sustainability, 1–13.
  • 4 Deere N, Guillera-Arroita G, Swinfield T, Milodowski DT, Coomes DA, Bernard H, Reynolds G, Davies ZG & Struebig MJ. (2020). Maximizing the value of forest restoration for tropical mammals by detecting three-dimensional habitat associations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117, 26254-26262
  • 5 Armsworth PR, Cantu-Salazar L, Parnell M, Davies ZG & Stoneman R (2011). Management costs for small protected areas and economies of scale in habitat conservation. Biological Conservation, 144, 423-429

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2024. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 10th January 2024.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£18,622 p.a. for 2023/24) and research funding. International applicants are eligible for fully-funded ARIES studentships including fees. Please note however that ARIES funding does not cover additional costs associated with relocation to, and living in, the UK. We expect to award between 4 and 6 studentships to international candidates in 2024.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences, on top of all Research Costs associated with the project. Excellent applicants from quantitative disciplines with limited experience in environmental sciences may be considered for an additional 3-month stipend to take advanced-level courses.
  • ARIES is committed to equality, diversity, widening participation and inclusion in all areas of its operation. We encourage enquiries and applications from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, age, sexual orientation and transgender status. Academic qualifications are considered alongside non-academic experience, and our recruitment process considers potential with the same weighting as past experience.
  • All ARIES studentships may be undertaken on a part-time or full-time basis, visa requirements notwithstanding.
  • For further information, please contact the supervisor. To apply for this Studentship follow the instructions at the bottom of the page or click the 'apply now' link.
  • ARIES is required by our funders to collect Equality and Diversity Information from all of our applicants. The information you provide will be used solely for monitoring and statistical purposes; it will remain confidential, and will be stored on the UEA sharepoint server. Data will not be shared with those involved in making decisions on the award of Studentships, and will have no influence on the success of your application. It will only be shared outside of this group in an anonymised and aggregated form. You will be ask to complete the form by the University to which you apply.
  • ARIES funding is subject to UKRI terms and conditions. Postgraduate Researchers are expected to live within reasonable distance of their host organisation for the duration of their studentship. See for more information

Applications open

Click here to apply at University of Kent