The number of rewilding and restoration projects (sometimes conflated concepts) has dramatically increased globally since the start of the 21st century as a result of the growing need for transformative and landscape-level approaches to conserving and promoting biodiversity. To date, measures of progress (or otherwise) of such projects tend to centre around monitoring changes to vegetation, such as looking at rates of establishment of species and changes in diversity over time.
Monitoring changes in faunal biodiversity and communities composition presents inherent scientific complexity due to, for example, differences in body size, distribution (e.g. ground vs canopy dwelling fauna), movement capabilities and behaviours (e.g. nocturnal and elusive animals). Moreover, traditional monitoring methods are typically expensive because of the significant workforce involved and the multiple and complex arrays of different equipment required to detect a range of taxa.
An alternative to traditional monitoring methods of faunal communities is the use of passive acoustic recording, and this method is increasingly being used by researchers globally across a range of environments, given the ability of the current technology and associated analytical capabilities to conduct multidisciplinary investigations into species, sounds, and environment relatively quickly and cost-effectively. Increasingly the fields of bioacoustics and ecoacoustics enable study into a range of topics, including activity patterns, population dynamics, species distributions, detection of rare and cryptic species, anthropogenic impacts and the overall health and stability of ecosystems. The extension of bioacoustic monitoring beyond species counts towards acoustic habitat mapping, and soundscape monitoring will be vital for applied conservation management in the future. Monitoring along ecological gradients in multiple habitat types can enable an understanding of the relationship between environmental factors and the soundscape, and the influence this relationship has on diversity patterns, occupancy and behavioural changes in species across their range. Changes to the soundscape can often be subtle yet reflect important changes in ecosystem health. An understanding of the acoustic environment and its ecological stressors is, therefore, vital. Soundscapes represent a functionally important measure of an environment's changing ecological status and help us understand the impacts of anthropogenic alteration of habitats. Therefore, their recording and subsequent analysis offer a highly valuable opportunity to monitor the impacts of restoration and rewilding projects on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.
This project aims to explore the use of passive recordings as a monitoring tool by examining its ability to monitor and characterise community composition and diversity of key faunal taxa in a large-scale restoration project.
To achieve this aim, the PhD researcher will work in Kenya and will be supervised 'At-Distance' by NTU academics in the UK, in collaboration with the Center for Ecosystem Restoration Kenya and local institutions to establish a network of acoustic monitoring devices within an active large-scale restoration project and potentially a recently developed second smaller-scale project. This network will be deployed to capture acoustic data in relation to a number of parameters that are likely to influence species/community composition (e.g. altitude, age of restoration plot, restoration plot vegetation composition). Bats, amphibians, terrestrial invertebrates and birds will be the key taxa studied, given that each of these groups can readily be monitored via acoustic monitoring and act as bioindicators of the health of ecosystems.
The acoustic data outputs will be compared to existing ecological/environmental datasets for the site to enable correlations to be investigated and the acoustic data to be placed in a wider context. Ultimately, this project will help to develop a long-term monitoring framework for restoration and rewilding projects more widely.
The PhD researcher's skills profile will be enhanced by an extensive 3-year doctoral training programme encompassing discipline-specific and generic scientific skills. Specifically, you will be supported in developing a professional skills profile that encompasses proficiency in field and laboratory environments, advanced approaches to analyse complex ecological data, and scientific writing and publication. Funding is available to support your attendance to training in the UK and attendance to conferences, providing opportunities to disseminate project results and build a network of colleagues that supports your post-doctoral career development. Based in Kenya, but with two scheduled visits funded by NTU's Eastern Africa Centre to the UK in years 1 and 4 of the project, you will belong to an active and diverse community in our School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences.