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Investigating how changing interactions between humans and elephants affect forest socio-ecological systems in drylands: A case study of Mukogodo Forest, Kenya


Project Description

A recent report by the Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services claims that global biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate. Accelerated biodiversity loss and ecosystem deterioration is not only harmful to nonhuman life, it threatens the socio-ecological systems humans rely on for cultural, economic, and physical wellbeing. In this context, forests deserve special attention: They are extremely biodiverse environments that provide habitat for multitudes of species while supporting an array of human activities, interests, and needs.
To date, rainforests have dominated research on biodiversity loss and ecosystem change in forests, leaving similar dynamics in dryland forests poorly understood. Drylands cover about 41% of the Earth’s land surface. Most of this land resides in developing countries, where nearly 2 billion people rely on forests for fodder, food, fuel, income, medicine, and shelter, as well as cultural identities, meanings, and values. At the same time, dryland forests are vital sources of biodiversity, ecosystem services, and habitat in developing countries, which has made them strategic venues for wildlife conservation.
As dryland forests are made venues for wildlife conservation, interactions between human and nonhuman forest users can change. Focusing on interactions between Maasai pastoralists and African elephants in Laikipia, Kenya, this project aims to understand how elephant behaviours have changed with wildlife conservation initiatives in Mukogodo Forest and what affect these changes have had on FSES. This aim will be pursued through the following objectives:
1. To document how the behaviours of individual elephants and elephant herds have changed with wildlife conservation initiatives in Mukogodo Forest;
2. To investigate the effects of these changes on FSES, focusing on key aspects of socio-ecological systems shared by people, their livestock, and elephants, such as migratory routes, vegetation, and water;
3. To evaluate how human-elephant interactions have altered the form, function, and existence – materially and ontologically – of Mukogodo Forest.
By relying on the experiences, observations, and understandings of Maasai pastoralists who embody generations of knowledge about Mukogodo Forest, this project will provide insights into how changing human-nonhuman interactions associated with wildlife conservation initiatives in FSES can affect the material and ontological existence of dryland forests

Funding Notes

Full payment of tuition fees at Research Councils UK fee level for year of entry (£4,327 in 2019/20), to be paid by the University;
An annual maintenance grant at current UK Research Councils rates (national minimum doctoral stipend for 2019/20 is £15,009), to be paid in monthly instalments to the Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholar by the University.
All studentships will come with a minimum of £3,000 Research Training Support Grant. This can be increased, if there are justified project costs, up to a maximum of £12,000.
Funding is available for UK or EU students only.

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