Developing novel methodological approaches to understand the harvest and conservation of Neotropical wildlife

Swan, Natalie and Barlow, Jos and Parry, Luke and Pompeu, Paulo (2017) Developing novel methodological approaches to understand the harvest and conservation of Neotropical wildlife. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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Human impact on the natural world is pervasive. The effects of historical and contemporary industrialisation, agricultural expansion and globalisation can be felt even in remote environments. Addressing anthropogenic threats to biodiversity is becoming ever more urgent, and ever more challenging. Conservationists must navigate increasingly complex problems that consider not only natural processes, but also the inextricable social dimensions of environmental change, and must do so with limited human and financial resources. The challenge is particularly great in tropical regions. These are home to the majority of terrestrial biodiversity and are facing unprecedented pressures due to expanding and impoverished human populations, urbanisation and exploitation of natural resources. Conservation strategies in the tropics increasingly recognise the need to embrace social-ecological approaches, often designed around initiatives that aim to safeguard biodiversity and the benefits provided to humans by ecosystems, and promote social progress. Yet development of monitoring techniques to better inform these strategies has lagged behind. Despite recent growth in the presence of social science theory and methods in conservation, research to characterise threats and identify conservation priorities rely heavily on traditional ecological methods. These methods have limitations, including restricted replication capacity, small spatial scales and sampling error. Perhaps more importantly, they fail to elicit the social context of human activities and behaviours. The main objective of this thesis was to critically examine and develop methods to address complex conservation problems in tropical forest contexts strongly influenced by human actions. The research is based in Brazil, a mega-diverse country experiencing turbulent economic and political times. The thesis begins in the Brazilian Amazon, where recent evidence indicates that urban consumption and commercial trade of wild-meat may be widespread, presenting an important threat to Neotropical biodiversity. Yet adequate regional data is scarce. Subsequently the first two data chapters of this thesis examine two approaches that could provide important insights into the extent and characteristics of wildlife harvest and trade across large spatial scales: expert knowledge and federal enforcement reports. First, using caiman as a model taxon, I surveyed experts across the Brazilian Amazon using a Likert-style questionnaire (Chapter 2). The results of expert responses revealed novel evidence of common and geographically widespread caiman hunting, driven in part by urban demand for meat and resulting in long-distance trade networks. Chapter 3 examines the potential of federal enforcement data to provide valuable regional information on illegal harvest and trade activities, utilising reports of enforcement events in 549 Amazonian municipalities. I also examine spatial and temporal patterns of institutional capacity of Brazil’s environmental agency to understand the efficacy of governance in tropical forests against this cryptic and hard-to-detect activity; and in turn how these realities impact our interpretations of the species data contained within enforcement reports. The analyses revealed evidence of inadequate institutional capacity and low enforcement of wildlife crime, particularly in smaller towns far from deforestation frontiers. Nonetheless, the approach yielded vital conservation information on spatial patterns and dynamics of species-level harvest and trade, including evidence of large-scale commercial trade in larger cities, and local-level harvest of vulnerable terrestrial vertebrates. The study also highlighted a potential Amazonian enforcement vacuum resulting from decentralization and institutional reforms. From here, we move to the Atlantic forest, a severely modified biome and conservation hotspot, to explore the use of Local Ecological Knowledge (LEK) to inform on local-scale occupancy and population trends of large-bodied mammals and birds. I conducted interviews with rural people to assess their knowledge of selected native species, and also to elicit their perceptions of social, environmental and economic processes of change. The results demonstrate that LEK can provide valuable information on species responses within severely modified tropical landscapes. Perhaps more importantly, qualitative insights from respondent interviews illustrated the inter-linked social, economic and political drivers of changing landscapes and livelihoods that have shaped contemporary species patterns. The findings of this thesis demonstrate the value of alternative and innovative research methods for eliciting important conservation-relevant information in tropical forest contexts. The research presented highlights the importance of critical and robust development and application of methods, recognizing the challenges that stem from integrating social-ecological knowledge systems and approaching complex problems at different spatial scales.

Item Type:
Thesis (PhD)
?? tropical forestswildlife harvestmixed-methods researchspatial scaleshuman-modified landscapesconservation ??
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Deposited On:
01 Aug 2017 11:22
Last Modified:
04 Jan 2024 00:03