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Community / Land projects / International: Decision support for restoring ecological networks in rapidly developing, biodiverse countries

International: Decision support for restoring ecological networks in rapidly developing, biodiverse countries


11/17 - 04/19


This project is part of


Ecosystems are under threat worldwide - natural habitats are being lost and the remaining areas are degraded and fragmented. Developing countries in the tropics have some of the world's highest concentrations of endemic species, but very high rates of land-use change. Climate change is already affecting tropical species, and there is particular concern about whether they will be able to shift from areas that become too hot or dry, across fragmented landscapes, to reach refuges in montane regions. If land-use change and forest degradation continue too intensively in these countries, species and ecosystem functions will be lost, leading to detrimental impacts on the livelihoods of local people dependent on these lands. Habitats across a landscape can be thought of as an "ecological network", and these networks need to have sufficient habitat area, quality and connectivity to be functional. Robust ecological networks require stronger protection of existing habitat and restoration of degraded forest. Policy makers and nature conservation practitioners are increasingly thinking about biodiversity conservation at landscape scales, but continuing land-use change leads to difficult decisions about how to prioritise habitat preservation and restoration, and technologies are lacking to allow practitioners to be able to do this. There is huge potential for landscape prioritisation to be informed by NERC-funded research. We have developed a model based on ecological understanding of range shifts, which quantifies how different elements of a habitat network contribute to long-distance connectivity. This model can also identify the best habitat to preserve, or locations to target for restoration. We have also quantified biodiversity in fragmented tropical forest habitats, and shown how land-use change affects forest species, in particular the extent to which they can persist in selectively logged forest, small forest fragments, extensive plantations and intensive plantations. This knowledge can now be used innovatively with new technologies and data, particularly remotely sensed data, to enable large-scale sustainable land-use planning for tropical developing countries under climate change. This project will develop an online spatial decision support tool for planning robust and resilient habitat networks under climate change. Our tool will be co-created and tested with partners in Ghana, Indonesia and Malaysia, locations where landscape planning is urgently required to support the livelihoods of local communities and other stakeholders dependent on building resilient landscapes under environmental change . Our partner organisations are responsible for sustainable forest planning and biodiversity protection in their countries, balancing biodiversity and socio-economic needs of landscapes. Our partners have proposed specific case studies that exemplify the most pressing choices and alternative scenarios they face - our new tool will be applied with their existing data to highlight priorities for action. Priorities will be based on connectivity benefits for biodiversity, weighted by economic costs and stakeholder preferences. The most tangible and long-lasting output of this project will be the freely available web interface to our tool, backed by a high-performance computing cluster in Liverpool that will perform the analyses. This interface makes the tool globally accessible, and is vital for future users in developing countries, because computing power limitations would preclude them running a desktop version. The project will also provide face-to-face training to relevant stakeholders in our partner countries, and online tutorial materials tailored to the needs of developing countries. Hence we will build capacity for our tool to be used as part of multidisciplinary projects addressing development challenges in future, to find efficient solutions where vital networks of natural habitat coexist with the needs of local stakeholders.


The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) supports cutting-edge research to address challenges faced by developing countries. The fund addresses the UN sustainable development goals. It aims to maximise the impact of research and innovation to improve lives and opportunity in the developing world.

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