Coconut & conservation: environmental and social sustainability of coconut farming in tropical countries (Joint project with SeNSS DTP)


Coconut & conservation: environmental and social sustainability of coconut farming in tropical countries (Joint project with SeNSS DTP)


Project Description


Dr Matthew Struebig (University of Kent, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology) – contact me

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

Project background

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.


  • Meijaard, E, Abrams, J, Juffe-Bignoli, D, Voigt, M, Sheil, D (2020a) Coconut oil, conservation and the conscientious consumer. Current Biology, 30 (13). R757-R758. (doi:10.1016/j.cub.2020.05.059
  • Meijaard, E., Brooks, T.M., Carlson, K.M…. Struebig, M. et al. (2020b) The environmental impacts of palm oil in context. Nature Plants 6, 1418–1426.
  • Santika, T., Wilson, K.A., Law, E.A. …. & Struebig, M. (2021) Impact of palm oil sustainability certification on village well-being and poverty in Indonesia. Nature Sustainability 4, 109–119.
  • Deere, N, Guillera-Arroita, G….& Struebig M (2020) Implications of zero-deforestation commitments: Forest quality and hunting pressure limit mammal persistence in fragmented tropical landscapes. Conservation Letters. DOI: 10.1111/conl.12701
  • Gardner, C., Bicknell, J., Baldwin-Cantello, W. Struebig, M., Davies, Z. (2019) Quantifying the impacts of defaunation on natural forest regeneration in a global meta-analysis. Nature Communications 10, 4590.

Key Information

  • This project has been shortlisted for funding by the ARIES NERC DTP and will start on 1st October 2023. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 11th January 2023.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£17,668 p.a. for 2022/23) 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.
  • 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.

Applications are open

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