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Managing social-ecological systems under uncertainty: Implications for conservation

Managing social-ecological systems under uncertainty: Implications for conservation
ANA MARGARIDA GUIMARÃES NUNO

2013

Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London, London SW7 2AZ, UNITED KINGDOM.

ABSTRACT

Natural resource managers and conservationists are often confronted with the challenges of uncertainty. Limits to knowledge and predictability challenge conservation success and socio-economic, institutional and political context affect implementation of conservation interventions. Using a management strategy evaluation (MSE) conceptual framework, I use a multidisciplinary approach to gain a better understanding of the role and implications of different sources and types of uncertainty for the management of social-ecological systems, giving special attention to the issues of observation and implementation uncertainty. The conservation of harvested ungulate species in the Serengeti, Tanzania, is used as a case study.

I investigated which factors should be prioritized in order to increase survey accuracy and precision, and explored the potential effects of budgetary scenarios on the robustness of the population estimates obtained for different savannah ungulate species. The relative importance of each process affecting precision and accuracy varied according to the survey technique and biological characteristics of the species. I applied specialized questioning techniques developed for studying non-compliant and sensitive behaviour, using the unmatched-count technique (UCT) to assess prevalence of illegal hunting in the Serengeti. I found that poaching remains widespread in the Serengeti and current alternative sources of income may not be sufficiently attractive to compete with the opportunities provided by hunting. I explored trade-offs between different types of error when monitoring changes in population abundance and how these are affected by budgetary, observational and ecological conditions. Higher observation error and conducting surveys less frequently increased the likelihood of not detecting trends and misclassifying the shape of the trend but the differences between multiple levels of observation error decreased for higher monitoring length and frequency. Using key informant interviews with the main actors in the monitoring and management system, I provided recommendations for the development and implementation of interventions within long-term integrated and adaptive frameworks.

The research presented in this thesis highlights the need to consider the role of people as influential components within social-ecological systems in order to promote effective conservation interventions. Monitoring and implementation must be understood as dynamic features of the system, instead of merely acting upon it, and the multiple sources of uncertainty must be fully considered in conservation planning, requiring the development and application of tools to aid management decision-making under uncertainty.