Congratulations to Mike on the exciting, recent news that he will be awarded a second round of multi-year funding for his ongoing project as part of the NSF International Research Experience for Students program!
It is an ambitious project that will give undergraduates the opportunity to study the comparative impact of human-environmental interactions on primate communities in three different tropical forest ecosystems, exemplifying IU’s commitments to giving students outstanding opportunities to learn and apply STEM skills and pursue sustainability research internationally.
The abstract, and link to the program announcement, are found below:
Comparing the influence of economic incentives and land use patterns on the conservation of tropical forests and primates in Panama, Costa Rica and Uganda.
Biodiversity loss, climate variability, and pollution are major threats to ecosystem functioning and quality of human life. Addressing these human-environment interactions is particularly important for tropical forest ecosystems as they contain approximately half of all living species, play an important role in climate regulation, and filter pollutants from water and air. Despite their importance, current policies are still largely ineffective as indicated by continued significant tropical forest loss over the past several decades. This NSF International Research Experience for Students award will support U.S. student projects across forests in Panama, Costa Rica, and Uganda to analyze how international variation in environmental policies influences land use practices and how these practices affect conservation outcomes related to forest condition and primate biology. By examining similar forests with different environmental policies and different forests with similar environmental policies, we will be able to evaluate the largescale effectiveness of conservation incentives, such as payments for ecosystem services (PES) and ecotourism, alongside the effects of agricultural practices linked to deforestation, air and water pollution, and biodiversity loss. Through this research program, underrepresented students in anthropology, human biology, and the environmental sciences will gain international field research experience in collaboration with the Organization for Tropical Studies and Makerere University Biological Field Station. Students will work closely with local field assistants and communities during their research, thus providing multiple opportunities for cultural exchange. At the end of the 10-week program, students will present their initial results to local communities and host country scholars at a public forum and will be encouraged to communicate their final results through peer-reviewed publication and presentations at professional conferences. An additional end product associated with this program and utilized by the IRES students will be a fully functioning laboratory capable of running immunoassays for quantifying primate hormone levels in the field, thus transferring scientific knowledge and infrastructure. Results from this research program will provide important insight useful to the design of policies for sustaining both biodiversity and human livelihoods.
Tropical forests are one of the world's most important ecosystems, containing at least half of all species, regulating climate, purifying air and water, and providing resources for local communities. Nonetheless, over the past few decades widespread deforestation has significantly reduced the extent of tropical forests, leading to declines in wildlife populations that depend on them through habitat loss and fragmentation. Primate populations have been especially affected with more than 60% of all species considered vulnerable or endangered by the IUCN. Efforts to preserve the remaining forests and threatened species dependent on them have largely focused on creating protected areas, such as national parks. However, citizens often rely heavily on natural resources for subsistence and environmental laws are regularly breached, thus weakening the effectiveness of protected areas. As a result, conservation policies have evolved from exclusionary protected areas to strategies that focus on local communities by providing economic and other incentives. Despite the increasing promotion of community-based alternatives by both scholars and practitioners, little evidence exists that they are any more effective than protected areas at maintaining forest quality or sustaining primate populations. Therefore, this NSF IRES research program has two main objectives: 1) To utilize international variation in environmental policies that integrate conservation and development objectives, such as payments for ecosystem services (PES) and ecotourism, for an analysis of the effectiveness of conservation strategies for both protecting tropical forests and their primates and maintaining human livelihoods; and 2) To provide international field research experience to underrepresented students in anthropology, human biology, and the environmental sciences. To meet these objectives, 15 upper level undergraduate and early career graduate student projects will examine the extent to which differing economic and participatory incentives and agricultural practices influence conservation outcomes as measured by on the ground data collected on forest condition (e.g., fragment size, % canopy cover, biomass) and primate biology (i.e., physiology, behavior, and population size) across forests in Panama, Costa Rica, and Uganda. At these sites, students will survey primate populations using line transects, quantify differences in primate behavior, measure primate fecal hormone levels with immunoassays, conduct interviews and surveys of local landowners, government officials and other stakeholders, and quantify forest characteristics using GIS and field methods. Students will also examine the effects of these strategies on local community livelihoods and how these effects influence local perception of environmental policy. Results from this project will add significantly to the knowledge of how economic and participatory incentives can affect conservation decisions and outcomes. As a breakdown in socio-environmental systems will negatively affect both humans and biodiversity, quantifying the effectiveness of various environmental management strategies to maintain biodiversity and local community livelihoods is necessary to ensure that these policies are actually meeting their sustainability and conservation goals.