Dr Tom Roberts, Sociology, University of Surrey
Dr Mahesh Poudyal, School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent
Dr Jake Bicknell, School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent
Dr Andy Moss, Chester Zoo
Cat Barton, Chester Zoo
Coconut farming contributes to the livelihoods of millions of people in tropical countries, but rarely features in discussions about biodiversity threats or sustainability. Preliminary work identified coconut as a crop with potentially significant impacts on wildlife because palms are mainly grown on tropical islands and/or coastal areas with high levels of species diversity and endemism. While coconut is generally grown at smallholder scales, cumulative areas are vast. Yet, compared to other tropical crops such as oil palm, very little is known about coconut’s roles in deforestation and biodiversity loss, or livelihoods and human well-being. This PhD will address this through an interdisciplinary study of coconut farming impacts on wildlife and people.
The student will implement some of the first research in Indonesia to quantify the biodiversity value of coconut farms relative to other relevant land-uses (e.g. corn, oil palm, rice). They will conduct biodiversity surveys of birds and/or other indicator taxa using standard methods, and have the option to investigate differences among various production practices.
Working with established social scientists at Kent, Surrey and Universitas Indonesia, the student will also investigate the contributions of coconut farming to the incomes and livelihoods of local communities. They will document the extent to which people are reliant on coconut compared to other crops and livelihood options, and characterise levels of multidimensional poverty in coconut farming villages. They will be able to adapt the case-study to their strengths to help understand the role coconut farming has in – for example – environmental incomes, food security and/or poverty alleviation. Surveys will be undertaken by local researchers, but the student will need to design the study and analyse the data.
Efforts are underway to map coconut farms across the tropical world. The student will combine this map with their ecological and social datasets and other map products (e.g. IUCN range maps, national census data) to help estimate the scaled-up effects of coconut farming on wildlife and people. The research will help inform changes to practices in sustainability certification standards via a partnership with Chester Zoo.
The successful candidate will be familiar with ecological and social dimensions of sustainability, have strong analytical skills (including GIS), and ideally some experience of tropical fieldwork.