Conservation and ecology of wetland birds in Africa
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
Contains unpublished work
Conservation managers worldwide are increasingly faced with the challenges of managing and protecting fragmented landscapes, largely as a consequence of human activities. Over recent decades, ecological theory has made a significant contribution to the development of landscape-scale conservation and practice. However, recommendations accounting for what is practically achievable in the modern-day landscape are currently lacking, while criteria for conservation planning and prioritisation continue to neglect the role of habitat networks at the required spatial scale for the long-term persistence of biodiversity. In this thesis, I test and apply ideas surrounding the complexities of managing and conserving species in a landscape context, using a suite of bird species endemic to papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) swamps in East and Central Africa as a model system. In the face of large-scale habitat loss and degradation, practical measures that account for the fragmented nature of this system, the needs of multiple specialist species, and the reliance on this habitat by local people, are urgently required. I first review the concepts originating from reserve design theory to provide a decision-making framework for those involved in landscape-scale conservation amid 21st century challenges to biodiversity, highlighting the key principles to be considered for informed choices to be made. Second, I show that the needs of local people can be compatible with conservation planning in the tropics, and may play an important part in maintaining habitat quality for species residing in historically disturbed landscapes. Third, I develop a novel framework to make an explicit link between metapopulation dynamics and conservation planning. Despite differences in the patch-level dynamics of individual species, areas of habitat where populations of multiple species are resistant to extinction, and resilient because of high chances of (re)colonization can be identified, highlighting where resources could be invested to ensure species have the capacity to respond to future change. Finally, I simulate the metapopulation dynamics of the papyrus-endemic birds to demonstrate that the optimal conservation strategy for the long-term persistence of all species residing in a network depends on the characteristics of individual species, and the total area that can be protected. Overall, this thesis develops and tests the ecological theory used in spatial conservation planning, emphasising the importance of habitat disturbance and interspecific ecological differences for the effective management of habitat networks. The results increase the evidence base for the conservation of wetland birds in Africa, as well as for species residing in fragmented landscapes more generally.
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) CASE studentship with the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds)
Donaldson, L., Wilson, R.J. & Maclean, I.M.D. (2017) Old concepts, new challenges: adapting landscape-scale conservation to the twenty-first century. Biodiversity and Conservation, 26, 527-552
Donaldson, L., Woodhead, A.J., Wilson, R.J. & Maclean, I.M.D. (2016) Subsistence use of papyrus is compatible with wetland bird conservation. Biological Conservation, 201, 414–422.
Maclean, Ilya MD
Wilson, Robert J
Bennie, Jonathan J
PhD in Biological Sciences