Understanding the role of different types of conservation area in meeting global biodiversity protection targets


Understanding the role of different types of conservation area in meeting global biodiversity protection targets


Project Description


Professor Bob Smith (Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent) – Contact me

Professor Zoe Davies (Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent)

Dr Rachel Golden Kroner (Conservation International)

Dr Cleo Cunningham (UNEP-WCMC)


Project Background

Conservation areas are vital for conserving nature (Golden Kroner et al, 2019) but research on their effectiveness typically only focuses on state-managed protected areas (Butchart et al, 2015). This is changing, with 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 understand how they contribute to conserving global biodiversity. Collecting such data for every country is a long-term process (Bingham et al, 2019), so DICE-led research has developed a new sampling methodology based on a representative subset of countries. This studentship will test and refine this new approach, collecting additional data and testing hypotheses to better understand how different types of conservation area help meet global targets for landscape connectivity and biodiversity representation.

Research methodology

Our new approach is based on identifying an ecologically and socio-politically representative sample of countries using spatial conservation prioritisation techniques (Smith et al, 2019) and collecting all available conservation area data for each country (Sykes et al, 2020). This studentship will investigate: (1) the robustness of the sampling approach by comparing results from different prioritisation techniques; (2) the relative role of state-, private- and community-managed conservation areas in representing biodiversity and maintaining landscape connectivity; (3) whether different types of conservation area are more effective at reducing habitat loss; (4) the suitability of the sampling approach for marine conservation areas.


The student will be based at DICE, Conservation International and the United Nations Environment Programme – World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and receive additional training from Kent Graduate School. They will develop spatial databases using ArcGIS/QGIS, identify the samples using the Marxan 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 student 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) Golden Kroner, RE et al (2019) The uncertain future of protected lands and waters. Science, 364, 881-886.
  • 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 2022. The closing date for applications is 23:59 on 12th January 2022.
  • Successful candidates who meet UKRI’s eligibility criteria will be awarded a NERC studentship, which covers fees, stipend (£15,609 p.a. for 2021-22) and research funding. International applicants (EU and non-EU) are 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 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 click on the “Apply now” link below.
  • 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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