My research interests lie in understanding the interaction of ecological and social factors in natural systems and how they impact the effectiveness of conservation interventions. The focus of my research is in understanding and improving the effectiveness of protected areas and law enforcement mechanisms, offering insight into human-wildlife conflict and poaching, as well as, improving methods in monitoring large mammals. I am particularly interested in the conservation of big cats and mountain ungulates with a special focus on southwest Asia, the Caucasus and Central Asia. My current project (PArCS; see below) focuses on understanding the effects of socioeconomic and political shocks on protected area effectiveness in the Caucasus.
Greater Caucasus, Georgia; Photo: V.C. Radeloff
Protected area effectiveness in the Caucasus during socioeconomic and political shocks (PArCS)
Massive biodiversity loss, from species to ecosystems, is a characteristic of the Anthropocene. A universal conservation tool to halt this trend is the establishment of protected areas, which aim at safeguarding ecosystem integrity and functioning, species diversity and ecosystem services. Despite marked advances in increase of protected area networks around the world, biodiversity and habitat losses due to human pressures continue to date. Therefore, the effectiveness of protected areas in delivering conservation goals is debatable, and understanding under which conditions protected areas function as envisioned is a key research topic. The protected areas in the southern Caucasus offer a unique natural experiment setting to answer these questions, as they have experienced different shocks and management approaches while sharing comparable ecosystems and species compositions. In this research, we apply an interdisciplinary approach, bridging top-down remote sensing methods to bottom-up wildlife monitoring and social survey techniques to measure multi-dimensional human pressures, and assess the effectiveness of protected areas before, during and after the shocks. This study disentangles the otherwise complex effects of confounding factors such as socioeconomic and political shocks in global change processes, which is essential in devising conservation actions beyond the studied system. Our project results will provide guidance for conservation and land-use planning for the unique but endangered biodiversity of the southern Caucasus. The project objectives are to:
Quantify the spatial patterns of land conversion and livestock encroachment
Quantify the spatial distribution of poaching
Assess the role of protected area presence in lessening human pressures and their effect size on conservation targets (wild ungulates) in relation to shocks and management conditions
Greater Caucasus, Georgia
Developing and testing a socio-ecological monitoring system for protecting large mammals in the southern Caucasus (SoMo)
Large mammals are declining dramatically in many regions of the world. How these species can be effectively protected in our landscapes, which are increasingly being shaped by humans, is therefore an important but largely unanswered question for conservation research and practice. The biggest obstacle in this respect is the often-insufficient data on the distribution and population development of these species, on the potential threats, as well as on possible conflicts between humans and large mammals. Therefore, approaches to enable efficient monitoring of the relevant socio-ecological parameters across large spaces are extremely important. The overarching goal of the SoMo project is to develop, implement and test an efficient monitoring system for the protection of large mammals in the southern Caucasus together with local scientists and nature conservation organizations. To achieve this goal, scientific partners and nature conservation organizations from Germany, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan will work together in a transdisciplinary approach. The project objectives are to:
Develop a uniform monitoring guideline for the collection of socio-ecological data and set up a spatial data infrastructure for the structured storage of the data
Consolidation, digitization and homogenization of the existing datasets, which were previously largely analogue and sporadic
Demonstrate the scientific and practical benefits of the new monitoring system using pilot studies
Vanishing Treasures - protecting endangered mountain species
Snow leopard in Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan)
Despite the growing evidence of species’ vulnerability to climate change, adaptation of wildlife to this change still remains a gap. Therefore, UNEP’s “Vanishing Treasures” Programme supports climate change adaptation of vulnerable mountain species such as Royal Bengal tiger in the Hindu-Kush Himalayas (Bhutan), snow leopard in Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) and mountain gorilla in the Virunga region (Rwanda and Uganda). The Programme is funded by the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and aims to generate maximum synergy between climate change adaptation and biodiversity conservation by improving the adaptive capacity of mountain ecosystems while maintaining related ecosystem services, protecting mountain flagship species who are key to ecosystem functioning, and promoting alternative livelihoods for local communities. Further objectives of the Programme include:
To train wildlife managers in protected areas in climate-smart wildlife conservation, including adaptation to climate change through nature-based solutions;
To improve communication between climate research and biodiversity conservation practitioners to ensure that the conservation sector appropriately responds to recommendations for adaptive action;
To promote & develop a green infrastructure approach including restoration of habitats and corridors, creation and maintenance of buffer zones & stepping stones, rehabilitation of swamps and water catchment areas while increasing agricultural productivity or providing alternative forms of income to local communities facing the impacts of climate change.
In this project, we support the implementation of the aforementioned Programme in particular of its Central Asia component and related activities planned under the respective annual work plans.
Towards adoption of systematic wildlife monitoring framework in the southern Caucasus
Embedding monitoring in conservation efforts is crucial for developing proactive conservation and management strategies, and for evaluating their effectiveness. To work towards the long-term survival of leopard in the Caucasus, monitoring core populations, the connectivity among them, and prey availability is of high priority. By implementing a systematic approach in monitoring leopard and its prey, conservationists will be provided with a clearer picture on the status of leopard and the effectiveness of their management strategies. This project aims at proposing a monitoring framework for the southern Caucasus (Armenia and Azerbaijan) as a pilot area within WWF leopard conservation program, facilitating decision-making in the alleviating threats to the leopard and its prey. The project objectives are:
Consolidation of existing wildlife data based on systematic grids, and the application of a camera trapping data management tool
Identification of core leopard areas with confirmed leopard presence for future systematic monitoring efforts, and identification of potential leopard habitats for future survey efforts
Identification of scientifically and practically robust methodologies in prey monitoring for the core leopard areas to assess prey population trends
Mapping corridors between core leopard areas and identification of survey areas in the leopard corridors to assess their functionality
Selection of methods to assess the levels of human-leopard conflicts in the core leopard areas
Persian leopard, Golestan National Park, Iran; Photo: PWHF
Prey preferences of the Persian leopard and trophic competition with human hunters in Iran
The Persian leopard is the last surviving large cat of the southwest Asia, after extinction of the Asiatic lion and the Caspian tiger in the past century. Although leopards are generalist carnivores and can tolerate different habitat conditions and prey sizes, the Persian leopard has gone extinct or its population has been severely reduced within much of the former range. One of the main threats to leopards in Iran is reduction in natural prey numbers. Poaching ungulates occurs frequently in most of the leopard's range, however the scale and dynamics of these incidents are unknown and its effects on leopard abundance and distribution has not been studied to date. During this research in Golestan National Park, Iran, we will focus on the question whether lack of natural prey due to extensive poaching of ungulates by the local communities creates a trophic human-leopard competition.
Our goal is to quantify potential competition between leopards and poachers, to identify whether this competition can cause a threat to survival of leopards and act as a driver of human-leopard conflicts.
To address this main goal, several objectives need to be accomplished:
Quantification of leopard diet based on scat analyses
Quantification of off-take by human hunters based on interview surveys
Quantification of available prey biomass using distance sampling
Estimation of dietary niche breadth of leopard and human hunters
Estimation of prey preferences of leopard
Estimation of prey overlap among leopard and poachers