Unsustainable hunting is one of the most pervasive threats to forest wildlife , which together with forest disturbance have large impacts on biodiversity and leads to defaunation. Defaunation has far-reaching ecological, social, economic and gendered implications for rural communities, where wild meat contributes to food security and livelihoods . The consequences on biodiversity and rural communities intensify with increased pressure from land conversion. Whilst land conversion is detectable from satellite imagery, cryptic activities such as hunting, and resource extraction have gone under-reported. Recent developments in acoustic sensors  provide us an opportunity to address this data gap.
This project will take an interdisciplinary approach to evaluating the socio–ecological sustainability of hunting practices within tropical forests in Belize, Central America. The region has seen rapid deforestation, with increased isolation of forest areas. The project will add to the global knowledge on the deployment strategies for acoustic sensors to collect ground-level data on hunting pressures in forest areas; will explore the socio-ecological systems where land-use change is influencing hunting activities and consequential environmental impacts; and establish community perspectives of sustainable hunting, providing novel approaches to governance and regularity frameworks of hunting activities.
Within the broad remit of quantifying defaunation of tropical forests and evaluating community perspectives of sustainable hunting, the student will both develop the technological applications of acoustic devices in conservation and utilize findings to inform and engage local communities. Community perspectives will be sought in terms of the significance and context of local hunting, as well as modifying the configuration of audio devices to reflect the priorities of the community. Specific efforts will be undertaken to understand diverse perspectives within the community including those of equity groups such as gender, age and social status. The project will generate thesis data chapters that could include:
- Experiments on large scale optimal deployments of acoustic sensors monitoring biodiversity and forest exploitation in protected and unprotected areas.
- Exploring links between acoustic biodiversity and poaching data, hunting data from socio-environmental approaches, and spatio-temporal land-use data
- Exploration of potential for local communities to monitor and configure their own natural resources, and NGOs to obtain real-time information on biodiversity and hunting activities.
- Mapping equity-based benefits and trade-offs within and between communities engaged in and impacted by hunting
- Contextualising findings with the efficacy of local policy and decision-making processes.
The INSPIRE DTP programme provides comprehensive personal and professional development training alongside extensive opportunities for students to expand their multi-disciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research and industrial/policy partners. The student will be registered at the University of Southampton and hosted in the FELS School of Geography and Environmental Sciences.
Specific training will include use of acoustic technology; data-collection designs for fieldwork; quantitative and qualitative data approaches; and first aid and health & safety training for remote fieldwork. The student will take Advanced Quantitative Methods (taught by Co-I Doncaster), as well as formal and informal training in Qualitative methods (Hutton and MSc level) which provides a thorough introduction to statistical analysis in the R environment as well as deep understanding of field-based community appropriate Participatory Rural Appraisal approaches.