Endangered species research - science to underpin conservation

Ateles fuscicecps


In one of the world's biodiversity hotspots (The Ecuadorian Choco Rainforest) we are developing innovative methods to survey and monitor endangered species. The major focus is on the critically endangered brown-headed spider monkey, Ateles fusciceps (funded by the Darwin Initiative). Having identified priority areas for conservation of the species and clear conservation actions underpinned by science we have established a group called the 'Washu project' - dedicated to conserving the species and habitat. We have now launched a campaign to bring this species back from the brink of extinction. See how you can help us by keeping an eye on the updates on the blog.  

Current work includes;

  • Developing an agent-based model to identify risks to primates from hunting and logging
  • Using 'soundscape' to determine the health of forest systems in Ecuador and Papuan New Guinea
  • Investigating the role of birds as bioindicators of habitat quality and environmental change
  • Participatory processes and parabiologists in defining a new conservation priority area for the critically endangered brown-headed spider monkey (Ateles fusciceps) 



 None of the work could take place without engaging with our network of 'parabiologists' (members of forest communities trained in scientific collection techniques). Community members were trained throughout the forests of NW Ecuador during the Darwin Initiative PRIMENET Project. Our students engage with communtiy level biologists, taking advantage of their depth of forest knowledge and create a bridge between local and scientific knowledge.  One cohort of parabiologists trained through the PRIMENET project is shown to the left.


Sustainable livelihoods - a new model for science as business in Papua New Guinea (Darwin Initiative)

Wanang Conservation AreaBuilding on over 10 years of work with Professor Vojtech Novotny and the Binatang Research Center in Papua New Guinea we are now working on how best to develop sustainable livelihoods for remote rainforest communities that are faced with a choice between forest conservation and logging concessions by building capacity (infrastructure, management expertise and para-ecologist teams) for internationally-networked biodiversity research. Our work in Papua New Guinea has been generously funded by the UK Darwin Initiative

Tropical forest dynamics - understanding global change

Helicopter IIThe number of species of trees that make up tropical forests is staggering - with up to 300 species per hectare recorded for Ecuadorian forests. Our work aims to understand the mechanisms that generate and maintain this species diversity. We also investigate both natural and human impacts to forest using tools that range from satellite remote sensing to field survey work. Recent work at the landscape scale includes;

  • Investigating the potential of high resolution aerial imagery to identify tropical tree species
  • Determining the role of natural disturbance in explaining the increase in tree species at mid altitudes in the Andes



Recently our group has expanded to include Dr Alice Eldridge who brings her experience as a musician and in artifical intelligence to bear on understanding the potential role of sound as a 'measure' of biodiversity. We are currently investigating metrics capable of providing information on the 'soundscapes' generated in tropical and temperarate forests. Soundscapes include biophony (sounds generated by wildlife), geophony (sounds generated by abiotic factors - wind, rain) and anthrophony (human generated sounds). Understanding soundscape and soundscape ecology is an emerging field with potential for remote sensing of biological processess and ecological communities. Our aim is to contribute to development of remote soundscape sensors that could be deployed over large spatial, and long temporal, scales to provide cost-effective, long-term biodiversity monitoring.