Determining the Effectiveness of Different Conservation Area Types for Meeting Global Biodiversity Targets


Determining the Effectiveness of Different Conservation Area Types for Meeting Global Biodiversity Targets


Project Description


Professor Bob Smith (School of Anthropology and Conservation – DICE, University of Kent) contact me

Professor Zoe Davies (School of Anthropology and Conservation – DICE, University of Kent)

Dr Cleo Cunningham (UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre)

Professor Neil Burgess (UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre)

Project Background

Conservation areas are vital for conserving biodiversity and ecosystem services but research on their effectiveness typically only focuses on state-managed protected areas (Butchart et al, 2015). This is changing, with several case-studies showing that privately- and community-managed conservation areas can play a key role. However, we lack spatial data (e.g. accurate locations, boundaries) on these non-state conservation areas, so cannot fully measure how well global biodiversity is conserved or monitor progress towards meeting international targets (Dinerstein et al, 2019). Collecting such data for every country is a long-term process (Bingham et al, 2019), so DICE-led research has developed a sampling methodology from a representative subset of countries. This studentship will strengthen and refine this new approach, producing results that will inform international conservation research and policy.

Research Methodology

The new methodology uses spatial conservation prioritisation software (Smith et al, 2019) to identify an ecologically and socio-politically representative subset of countries, collect all their conservation area data and calculate conservation area coverage within this sample area (Sykes et al, 2020). This studentship will: (1) investigate the robustness of the sample selection approach by comparing results from different software packages; (2) produce statistical models to understand what best predicts the actual and recorded coverage of state, private and community-managed conservation areas per country; (3) measure the extent to which the different conservation areas types meet global protection targets for terrestrial species; (4) modify this approach to identify a sample of marine areas for future research.


The candidate will be based at DICE and UNEP-WCMC and receive additional training through Kent Graduate School workshops. They will develop spatial databases using ArcGIS/QGIS, identify the representative samples using the Marxan, prioritizr and Zonation software packages, work with partners to collect conservation area data and analyse the results using R. They will also learn academic skills such as academic writing, giving conference presentations and time management.

Person Specification

A highly motivated candidate interested in combining biogeography with conservation science to produce high-impact, policy-relevant research. The candidate should have a degree in conservation, ecology or environmental sciences, strong analytical skills and, ideally, GIS expertise.


  • 1. Bingham, HC et al (2019) Sixty years of tracking conservation progress using the world database on protected areas. Nature Ecology and Evolution, 3.5, 737-743.
  • 2. Butchart, SHM, Clarke, M and Smith, RJ et al (2015) Shortfalls and Solutions for Meeting National and Global Conservation Area Targets. Conservation Letters, 8, 29-337.
  • 3. Dinerstein, E et al (2019). A global deal for nature: guiding principles, milestones, and targets. Science Advances, 5(4), p.eaaw2869.
  • 4. Smith, RJ et al (2019) Synergies between the key biodiversity area and systematic conservation planning approaches. Conservation Letters, e12625.
  • 5. Sykes, R, […] Davies, ZG and Smith, RJ (in prep). Developing a system to improve the accuracy of global estimates of conservation area coverage based on a sampled approach.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2021. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2021.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£15,285 p.a. for 2020-21) and research funding. For the first time in 2021/22 international applicants (EU and non-EU) will be eligible for fully-funded UKRI studentships. Please note ARIES funding does not cover visa costs (including immigration health surcharge) or other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK.
  • ARIES students benefit from bespoke graduate training and ARIES provides £2,500 to every student for access to external training, travel and conferences. 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 in the subject area.
  • 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 significant relevant non-academic 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 click on the “Apply now” link below.

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