Robust Wildlife Population Monitoring Under Challenging Conditions
Researcher: Stephanie Brittain
Period: October 2015- October 2019
Funder: NERC CASE
Collaborators: ZSL Cameroon
For many wildlife species, monitoring over large spatiotemporal scales remains a serious challenge. At the root of this challenge lies tension between monitoring methods that prioritise accuracy, and those that emphasize long-term practicality. This trade-off between effectiveness and cost is a pervasive and unresolved problem in biodiversity monitoring. One possible solution has been to draw on the experience of local people in order rapidly to condense information over areas and timescales that cannot be tackled using conventional surveys. However, while there are some good examples of the integration of local participation into ecological monitoring, it remains underdeveloped.
This research aims to gain a better understanding of the role and implications of different sources and types of uncertainty when using local ecological knowledge for wildlife population monitoring, using interview-based occupancy analysis of bushmeat species and threats in a protected area (the Dja Faunal Reserve) in Cameroon as a case study. The projects focus on understanding and correcting for bias and uncertainty in observational data, a data type widely used in ecology and conservation, will allow a better understanding of observational data more broadly, and how to address these issues for the overall benefit of ecology and conservation. At a smaller scale, I am developing and evaluating a method that is potentially cost effective and accurate, much needed in conservation and ecology to overcome the challenges to robust monitoring.
All wildlife population monitoring methods suffer from a degree of imperfect detectability, yet there is a substantial lack of focus on uncertainty and bias as an issue in ecology and conservation, leading to potentially misleading conclusions being drawn. Tension exists between the need for methods that prioritize long-term practicality and those that prioritize precision; monitoring methods can be expensive, time consuming and require specialized training or technology, rendering monitoring over large spatiotemporal scales a serious challenge, especially for budget restricted projects. This is made worse in remote or challenging habitats such as dense forest where detectability is low and terrain is difficult to traverse.
Recently, interview-based surveys have been incorporated with occupancy analysis, which potentially provide an unbiased estimation of species distribution and relative abundance through models that account for false positive and negative detections (MacKenzie et al. 2002). Despite its growing popularity, there is very little research on the sources of bias and the accuracy of the data obtained using interview data for occupancy modelling.
Outline of scope of research
This research aims to gain a better understanding of the role and implications of different sources and types of uncertainty when using local ecological knowledge for wildlife population monitoring, using interview-based occupancy analysis of bushmeat species and threats in a protected area (the Dja Faunal Reserve) in Cameroon as a case study.
The research objectives are to 1) Review the current use of local ecological knowledge for Interview-based occupancy analysis within conservation; 2) Investigate how interview-based occupancy analysis is affected by different types of uncertainty/bias within the case study; 3) Explore the trade-offs between cost, precision and accuracy when using interview-based occupancy analysis; 4) Quantify the status of, and threats to, hunted species in the Dja region, using interview-based occupancy analysis as a method and 5) Identify barriers to and the potential for the successful implementation of interview-based occupancy analysis for population monitoring in the Dja region and more broadly.
- Brittain, S., Rowcliffe, J.M., Earle, S., et al. (2022). Power to the people: analysis of occupancy models informed by local knowledge. Conservation Science and Practice. https://doi.org/10.1111/csp2.12753
- Brittain, S., Rowcliffe, J.M., Kentatchime, F. et al. (2022). Comparing interview methods with camera trap data to inform occupancy models of hunted mammals in forest habitats. Conservation Science and Practice. https://doi.org/10.1111/csp2.12637
- Tudge, S., Brittain, S., Kentatchime, F. et al. (2022). The impacts of human activity on mammals in a community forest near the Dja Biosphere Reserve in Cameroon. Oryx. 10.1017/S0030605321000806
- Zwerts, J.A. et al. (2021) Methods for wildlife monitoring in tropical forests: Comparing human observations, camera traps and passive acoustic sensors. Conservation Science and Practice. 10.1111/csp2.568
- Brittain, S., Ibbett, H., de Lange, E. et al. (2020) Ethical considerations when conservation research involves people. Conservation Biology. 10.1111/cobi.13464
- Brittain, S., Milner-Gulland,E.J., Ngo Bata, M., Rowcliffe, M. (2018) Combining local knowledge and occupancy analysis for a rapid assessment of forest elephants in Cameroon’s timber production forests. Oryx. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0030605317001569
- Ibbett, H., Brittain, S. (2018) Conservation publications and their provisions to protect research participants. Conservation Biology. 10.1111/cobi.13337
Thesis: Brittain, S (2020). Integrating local knowledge into wildlife population monitoring.
Other articles and media
Brittain, S (2018) Why should we care about ethics in conservation?, Blog, ICCS
Brittain, S (2018) Timber concessions may provide valuable additional conservation land for elephants, Blog, Cambridge Core Blog
If you would like to find out more about the research please contact Stephanie Brittain: firstname.lastname@example.org