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2017_76: Do climate and land use changes interact
to precipitate biodiversity loss?
Supervisors: Dr Nathalie Pettorelli ([email protected]) Dr Cristina
Banks-Leite, (Life Sciences), Dr Sarah Durant (IoZ), Chris Ransom (ZSL), Paul de
Ornellas (ZSL)
Department: Zoological Society London / Life Sciences
Climate and land use changes are key drivers of biodiversity decline. While the
individual pathways by which each of these threats shapes biodiversity loss have been
researched, their combined effects are yet to be fully explored and quantified.
Interactive associations between these factors are however increasingly suspected to
occur, and could have serious implications for populations and communities of
conservation concern, as well as for ecosystem function and services. In particular,
these interactions could have damaging effects in remnant biodiversity hotspots as
climate change intensifies and global demand for natural resources continues to rise.
A key conservation priority is thus to assess the shape and strength of these
interactions and start mitigating against their impact, but lack of long-term data often
impedes such efforts. Recent changes in the accessibility of remote sensing
information have however opened new research opportunities, enabling scientists to
cost-effectively detect and quantify spatial and temporal changes in various
environmental and biological parameters across large areas.
This project aims to capitalise on this recent increase in data accessibility to answer
key questions pertaining to how climate and land use changes interact to precipitate
biodiversity loss. It will do so while focusing on the WAP (W-Arli-Pendjari) region, a
key conservation hotspot for Western Africa. The WAP complex is the largest
continuum of terrestrial, semi-aquatic and aquatic ecosystems in the West African
savannah belt. Climatic conditions across the complex range from dry, Sahelian
climate in the North (~500 mm annual precipitation) to wetter, Sudanese-Guinean
climate in the South (~1200 mm annual precipitation); this contrast is expected to
strengthen with climate change. The complex contains a number of protected areas
as well as hunting and buffer zones, and is divided between Benin (43% of the area),
Burkina Faso (36%) and Niger (21%). Local biodiversity is currently at risk from a
For more information on how to apply visit us at
Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet
number of threats including agricultural development, uncontrolled bushfires, climate
change, poaching and unsustainable timber harvesting.
Using primarily satellite data (from both passive and active sensors) and available
information on species distribution and habitat preference in the complex, the project
will address the following questions:
(i) Do recent changes in climatic conditions correlate with changes in the frequency
and intensity of bushfires, as well as changes in the quality, quantity and configuration
of specific land cover types used by communities in the region? Are the changes more
noticeable outside protected areas than inside?
(ii) What are the relative contributions of climate change, land use change and their
interaction in driving loss of species richness, change in ecosystem distribution and
habitat suitability for species of conservation concerns in the region? Are these
contributions similar inside and outside protected areas?
Project outputs will include habitat suitability maps for key vertebrate species of
conservation concern and identification of priority areas for management actions;
altogether, these will support conservation efforts in an information-deficient area. As
this region falls under multiple management jurisdictions covering area within different
countries, the project findings will also facilitate the further development of strategies
for coordinated management across state boundaries.
For more information on how to apply visit us at