Designing protected areas networks that incorporate animal movement and habitat connectivity


Designing protected areas networks that incorporate animal movement and habitat connectivity


Project Description


Dr Aldina Franco (UEA Environmental Sciences)

Prof Carlos Peres (UEA)

Prof Carlos David Santos (University of Pará, Brazil)


Biodiversity loss is one of the major challenges of the Anthropocene and the establishment of robust networks of protected areas is one of the key actions identified to address this challenge. The Aichi Targets of the Millennium Development Goals raised international awareness for the need to protect at least 17% of land areas and 10% of marine areas for biodiversity conservation, but wetland areas remain poorly represented in national protected area networks, and those that have been set-aside for conservation remain poorly implemented. For species that are shifting their ranges, protected areas facilitate movement and adaptation to global environmental change. Species that move between breeding and non-breeding sites are among those that are most challenging to protect. Protected areas, to be effective, should cover the full annual cycle of these species. Flyway conservation is an effective conservation strategy but movement information is still scarce. With recent technological advances, animal movement information is becoming available and can help design effective protected areas in a changing world.

This project aims to use birds as indicators of wetland habitats to identify important areas for conservation in northern South America using remote sensing data. The project will also collect new animal movement data for the Wood stork (Mycteria americana) that breeds colonially on trees in swamps and mangrove areas and is considered an indicator and flagship species for the conservation of wetland areas. Information about the movement of individuals will identify the degree of connectivity between different wetland areas that will enable the design of networks of protected areas of mangrove and wetland species. The project will 1) map wetland bird diversity and abundance based on aerial surveys and remote sensing; 2) identify foraging movements of wood storks and determine levels of structural and functional connectivity of wetland and mangrove habitats in South America; 3) determine the value of wetland and mangrove ecosystem services (e.g. carbon storage, sediment deposition, exploitation of natural resources); and 4) identify priority areas for conservation that include landscape connectivity and deliver multiple ecosystem services.

Approach and training

The project will use theoretical and practical ecological skills, remote sensing, statistics and new animal tracking technologies. You will be trained in experimental design, testing hypothesis, trap and manipulate wild animals and deploy tracking devices. You will have the opportunity to explore existing datasets in GIS and/or using R, and investigate which environmental variables may influence species diversity and abundance. Large datasets will be collected with animal movement information that will likely reveal new movement patterns and its main environmental drivers, and will inform the design of robust networks for wetland areas in South America. This PhD also will provide an opportunity to answer wider scientific questions about the factors that cause habitat change and its consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem services provided by wetlands and mangroves.

Research environment

This is a multidisciplinary project linking technology, ecology and ecological economics to create evidence-based conservation measures. You will join an active research group generating world-class, NERC-supported science. You will learn to use state-of-the-art tracking devices that are being developed at UEA and will join an energetic ARIES cohort that has designed an excellent training programme to deliver world-class science capacity building. Through the collaboration with colleagues at the Federal University of Pará (UFPA) and governmental and non-governmental organisations in Brazil, you will understand how to translate science and evidence into measures that can be used for management and conservation of biodiversity. You should have a good degree in the life sciences, relevant research experience, and be keen to advance scientific understanding of our natural environment. Contact supervisor Aldina Franco for further details:


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  • Luisetti, T., Turner, K., Jickells, T., Andrews, J., Elliott, M., Schaafsma, M., Beaumont, N., Malcolm, S. J., Burdon, D., Adams, C. & Watts (2014) Coastal Zone Ecosystem Services: From science to values and decision making; a case study. Science of the Total Environment. 493, p. 682–693.

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