|Dr Sean Kelly, Trinity College Dublin|
Sean completed his PhD on integrative avian taxonomy and the role of competition in the diversification of passerine birds. The Wallacea region is one of the most biologically diverse and geologically complex regions on Earth. Thus, any biological research in this region is incredibly exciting and highly warranted. My PhD research focussed on populations of small passerine birds from South-east Sulawesi and the Wakatobi Islands under two major themes: (i) integrating molecular and phenotypic data to resolve the poorly understood taxonomic relationships of birds in the area; and (ii) combining detailed behavioural, ecological and morphological data to further understand how competitive interactions can drive evolutionary change. Fieldwork in Sulawesi was essential to the success of this project and made possible by the support of Operation Wallacea. My fieldwork was split between research sites on Buton Island and the Wakatobi Islands. Birds were caught safely using mist-nets in order to attain biometric data (e.g. wing and bill length) and feather samples (which were later used for DNA analysis and stable isotope analysis). In addition to this, I spent a large amount of time studying the behaviour (e.g. feeding behaviour and competitive interactions with members of the same/different species) and ecology (e.g. habitat preferences) of my study species in the wild. By comparing bird populations from mainland Sulawesi and Buton to those on the Wakatobi Islands, I was able to determine whether or not those birds that looked alike were actually members of the same species. Furthermore, by comparing populations within the Wakatobi archipelago, I was able to gain a further understanding of the patterns and processes of evolutionary change in island organisms.
|Dr Jocelyn Curtis-Quick, Essex University|
Jocelyn undertook a PhD on the effects of habitat degradation on coral reef fish. Increasing anthropogenic disturbances are resulting in the degradation of many reef systems worldwide leading to the reduction of reef fish diversity and abundance. Many reef fish play important ecosystem functional roles and their demise can have significant implications for the reef system. The Indo-Pacific has especially high diversity and functional redundancy, which means that reefs in this area are more capable to resist and recover from disturbance. The degree of susceptibility of reef fish to changes in habitat quality is seemingly species specific and highly dependent on the resource requirements of the particular species. Jocelyn’s PhD aimed to increase our understanding of niche partitioning and resource utilisation by key fish taxa and importantly the plasticity of fish to adapt their feeding strategy (through behavioural studies) in response to a changing habitat quality. Jocelyn completed her PhD in 2013, and is now leading the lionfish research unit at the Cape Eleuthera Institute in the Bahamas.
|Dr Sebastian Hennige, Essex University|
Sebastian Hennige collected field data at the OpWall Indonesian marine research site for his thesis on The Role of Photoacclimation on Distribution of Hermatypic Coral Species. New techniques in fluorescence were being used to assess zooxanthellae photophysiology in a variety of coral species. Experiments used non-invasive and invasive techniques to provide a detailed characterisation of the growth and productivity of zooxanthellae in different coral species. All measurements were repeated upon in hospite zooxanthellae and isolated zooxanthellae in culture suspensions to understand the physical contribution of the host upon zooxanthellae photoacclimation. The genetic strain (clade) of all isolated zooxanthellae was also determined. In situ work in Indonesia complemented the laboratory data. Sebastian was supervised by Dr Dave Smith.
|Dr Hazel Webber, King’s College London|
Hazel Webber completed a PhD at King’s College London. Her research centred on the human dimensions of environmental change. Her study was entitled ‘An examination of adaptive strategies in a time of increasing livelihood vulnerability due to long term declining resources’. The study aimed to investigate the adaptive responses of small-scale fishers to resource fluctuations and other institutional and market shocks and uncertainties to add to the understanding of small-scale fisher communities when designing fisheries management policy. The study seeked to show how a more sophisticated understanding of the complexities of poverty and vulnerability, as well as an understanding of asset accumulation and natural resource utilisation, can contribute to counterbalancing some of the predominant ideological stereotypes regarding global poverty and natural resource utilisation. The natural resource dependent Bajo community living on Sampela, a stilt island 500 meters from the coast of Kaledupa in the Wakatobi Marine National Park, Sulawesi, Indonesia, formed the case study. The specific vulnerabilities and subsequent adaptive strategies of the community were mapped over a longitudinal period of time in order to build on existing academic knowledge and contribute to future management policy.
|Dr Mike Logan, Dartmouth College|
Mike collected data on the thermal ecology of lizards in the genus Anolis from the Cayos Cochinos and Bay Islands of Honduras. Since the 1960s, temperatures have risen 2.5°C in the Caribbean, and recent evidence has emerged that suggests global warming will affect forest-dwelling lizards that occur in the tropics much more dramatically than it will lizards in other regions of the world. Because three species of forest-dwelling Anolis are endemic to the Bay Islands (two out of the three occur on Utila), it is valuable to understand their thermal biology in order to predict the effects that global warming will have on their survival. Mike was supervised by Dr Ryan Calsbeek.
|Dr Niall McCann, Cardiff University|
Niall McCann completed his PhD with financial and field support from the Operation Wallacea Honduras forest programme as a part of a CASE BBSRC studentship. His thesis is entitled “Habitat fragmentation and dispersal in Baird’s tapir.” This project will examine the effects of forest fragmentation on the distribution, population structure and viability of Baird’s tapir in Honduras. Understanding the impact of fragmentation is key to managing this and other species in the region. This study will use patch occupancy analysis based on tracks and signs and DNA profiling of faecal samples to assess tapir populations in a range of forest protected areas of different sizes and degrees of isolation. Habitat surveys and spatial analysis using GIS will identify the factors affecting occupancy. These sources of information will be combined to model the impacts of increases in fragmentation and connectivity on tapir populations in Honduras and throughout Central America, providing crucial information for management authorities, with whom Operation Wallacea work closely. Baird’s tapir is Central America’s largest mammal and is listed as Endangered by the IUCN. It is hoped that this study will provide a management template that can be used in the conservation of other endangered large mammals.
|Dr Julius Piercy, Essex University|
Julius collected data on the reef fish larval supply to coral reefs in the Wakatobi region and related these to the soundscapes of different reef habitats. His PhD project was titled “Coral reef noise, fish behaviour and the role of marine soundscapes in assessing reef quality“. Coral reefs are noisy environments providing, as such, many acoustic cues that marine vertebrates and invertebrates can utilise to gain important information on the reefs’ location, quality and species composition. Reef fish larvae use these acoustic cues to locate reefs after a phase spent in the pelagic and actively swim towards them. The data collected enabled the creation of models and simulations to replicate the way various species of fish larvae respond to different acoustic environments, the distance at which they respond to these cues and which frequencies are associated with their swimming behaviour. This information will be useful not only to understanding the patterns of larval supply in the Wakatobi region but also, more generally, for enhancing current conservation strategies. The PhD was funded through a NERC studentship and jointly supervised by Dr David Smith, Dr Edd Codling (University of Essex) and Dr Steve Simpson (University of Bristol).
|Dr Sarah Jane Walsh, Essex University|
Sarah-Jane Walsh completed her NERC funded PhD at the University of Essex under the supervision of Dr David Smith and Dr David Suggett, and conducting field research at the Operation Wallacea Marine site in Indonesia. Her research entailed identifying histological differences across different coral genera and identifying how these differences may impact bleaching response. Much research is currently ongoing focusing on the symbiont role in bleaching and tissue narcosis. However, many of these studies fail to identify the role of the host in the bleaching response. This study aimed to identify the mechanisms which are initiated and regulated by the cnidarian host in the hope of filling this gap in the literature. The research focused on the binding capacity of coral tissues to the coral skeleton, and what initiates the fundamental breakdown of this during adhesion dysfunction. The study also looked at whether this response differs across coral genera and if so identify the reasons for this. This study hopes that identifying these key differences will have conservation implications via the identification of susceptible and robust reef habitats.
|Dr Chiara Franco, Essex University|
Chiara completed her PhD at the University of Essex and conducted her field research at the Operation Wallacea Marine site in Indonesia. Her research involved the collection of field data on bioerosion and bioaccretion across environmental gradients within the Wakatobi region, to better understand how past, present and future environmental disturbances (both natural and anthropogenic) influence reef framework. The data, collected across environmental gradients, enabled the creation of a novel decision support system for coral reef conservation and management. This study aimed to provide managers and park authorities with a user-friendly model that considers reef components under a holistic and adaptive approach. Chiara’s field work was funded by an Operation Wallacea studentship and supervised by Dr. Leanne Hepburn and Dr. David Smith.
|Dr Sven Batke, Trinity College Dublin|
Sven assessed the epiphyte diversity of tropical montane forest in Cusuco National Park, Honduras. Epiphytes are plants that live an almost independent life away from the forest floor and make up in some instances half of the plant diversity in a tropical ecosystem. They are a super diverse group and include families such as Orchidaceae, Bromeliaceae, Ericaceae, Gesneriaceae, Melastomataceae, Peperomiaceae, Rubiaceae, Araceae and Cactaceae. Because epiphytes are very sensitive to disturbance (e.g. logging, climate change), and as such are good forest health indicators. Therefore, studying this incredibly important group is of fundamental importance in facilitating future conservation efforts in Honduras. Sven’s research aimed to investigate vegetation changes along altitudinal gradients and how climate change and anthropogenic disturbances affect their future distribution. Moreover, because of the general lack of standardized sampling protocols within canopy research, Sven, in collaboration with Merlijn Jocqué (Koninklijk Belgisch Instituut voor Natuurwetenschappen, Brussels) and others, further aimed to develop a standardized sampling protocol for canopy organisms including epiphytes. Using canopy access methods such as rope techniques enabled him to study this extraordinary and often unknown life above ground level. His project was partially funded by Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and supervised by Dr. Daniel Kelly (TCD).
|Dr Krisztina Szalai, Nottingham University|
Kriszti’s research on ethical food product pricing schemes for goods being produced in environmentally sensitive places fell within the context of agriculture-related environmental issues and socio-economic challenges. It investigated whether ethical food product pricing schemes can be a way out of poverty for people while sustaining at least the current level of biodiversity. In the last few decades there have been numerous attempts to create various food based certification schemes but so far only a few have won wider recognition with the general public. Kriszti’s thesis examined how these popular food based certification schemes (Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and Organic) were developed, grew and are perceived by the general public as having socio-economic and biodiversity benefits. Her research focused on the environmental and biodiversity performance criteria of these certification schemes. It also explored the possibility of developing additional standards which could be added to these schemes to include product purchased directly from whole communities rather than producers’ co-operatives. This should improve the associated livelihoods of producers and in the meantime significantly slow environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity. Kriszti’s PhD was funded by the University of Nottingham and supervised by Dr Richard Field and Dr Sarah Jewitt (School of Geography, University of Nottingham).
|Dr Natalie Bown, Newcastle University|
Natalie studied for her PhD at Newcastle University with financial and field support from Operation Wallacea's Honduras marine research programme. Her thesis was entitled "Governance of Marine Protected Areas: A Case Study of the Cayos Cochinos MPA". The study examined how governance (local and national) affects the effectiveness of the management plan at the CCMPA in achieving its conservation and fisheries management objectives based on the ecological and socioeconomic criteria stated in the management plan. The study was framed by an examination of the process of Adaptive Co-Management (ACM), and how that framework can be best applied to the CCMPA, or if indeed external forces (national policy and economic development) are too strong to enable an adaptive co-management approach to work.
|Dr James MacDonald, Rutgers University|
James collected data from the Operation Wallacea Honduran marine sites for his PhD along with other sites in Central America on the role of mangroves as fish nurseries. James was supervised by Dr Judith Weis.
|Dr Jess Harm, Oxford University|
Jess Harm did her PhD at Oxford with field support from the Operation Wallacea Honduras marine research programme. Her thesis title was "The Relationship Between Coral Reef Fish (Larvae, Juveniles, and Adults) and Mangroves: A Case Study in Honduras". She investigated several questions including: will an island with mangrove lagoons house a different fish assemblage than an island without mangrove lagoons? Are fish in mangrove lagoons distributed according to differences in abiotic (salinity, dissolved O2, nutrients) and biotic (presence of filter feeders and algae) factors? What mangrove prop-root characteristics attract coral-reef fish juveniles?
|Dr Atiek Widayati, Northumbria University|
Atiek completed her PhD at Northumbria University with funding from the Operation Wallacea Trust/World Bank Lambusango project and field support from Operation Wallacea. Atiek’s PhD research aimed to assess ecological sustainability of rattan harvesting activities in Lambusango forest. Her PhD title was “Rattan Harvesting in a Forest with Conservation Values in Lambusango Area, Buton, Indonesia: a Sustainable Practice or a Threat to the Forest?”
|Dr Nancy Priston, Cambridge University|
Nancy Priston did her PhD at Cambridge University with support for the travel and field work elements in Indonesia from Operation Wallacea. Her thesis was entitled Crop-raiding by Macaca ochreata brunnescens in Sulawesi: Reality, perceptions and outcomes for conservation. This study assessed how and the extent to which the booted Sulawesi macaque (Macaca ochreata brunnescens) poses a threat to subsistence farmers’ livelihoods, and in turn, how this affects farmers’ perceptions of a threatened primate species. Through interviews with local farmers, farm surveys, focal-farm watches and troop follows, the impact of raiding by primates on subsistence farmers in Buton, South-east Sulawesi, was investigated.
|Dr Nurul Winarni, Manchester Metropolitan University|
Nurul completed her PhD at Manchester Metropolitan University with funding from the Operation Wallacea Trust/World Bank Lambusango project and field support from Operation Wallacea. Nurul Winarni’s thesis title was “Community patterns of birds and butterflies in Lambusango”. Specifically, the effect of anthropogenic disturbance to bird and butterfly communities, evaluate problems and constraints in bird monitoring (bias and power analysis) and evaluate the use of indicator species of disturbance.
|Dr Richard Unsworth, Essex University|
Richard Unsworth did his PhD with financial support from Operation Wallacea on Hoga Island, SE Sulawesi, Indonesia. His thesis was entitled Aspects of the Ecology of Indo Pacific Reef Systems and has resulted in 10 papers in peer reviewed journals to date. This three year PhD thesis project investigated aspects of the functions of seagrass ecosystems in supporting the faunal productivity of Indo-Pacific coastal marine systems. The Wakatobi Marine National Park, Indonesia was used as an example of seagrass habitats throughout the Indo-Pacific bioregion. Research investigated how seagrass is utilised as habitat and as a direct food resource, this included extensive investigation on the role and extent of the impacts of habitat connectivity on seagrass fauna. Five of the six thesis chapters are published as academic papers. The complete thesis can be downloaded here. Dr Richard Unsworth is now based at the Northern fisheries Centre in Cairns, Australia following a spell working for a corporate environmental consultancy.
|Dr Abigail Powell, University of Victoria, New Zealand|
Abigail completed a PhD examining the role of fish predation in driving spatial variability of Indo-Pacific sponge assemblages. Overfishing has been identified as one of the most important contributors to the decline of coral reefs across the globe. Currently, much research focuses on investigating and mitigating the impacts of overexploitation of coral reefs, however, the vast majority of this research does not take into account its effects on sponges. In polar and temperate regions the main sponge predators are invertebrates, particularly starfish and nudibranchs, but in the tropics sponges are also eaten by fish. The importance of fish predation in driving sponge abundance patterns in the Indo-Pacific is still unclear, but changes in fish abundance could have far reaching implications on sponge assemblages. For example, if fish predation determines the distribution and abundance of sponges, a decline in fish abundance could result in an increase in sponges with subsequent ecosystem functioning effects.
|Dr Leanne Cullen, Essex University|
Leanne Cullen did her PhD with financial support from Operation Wallacea on Hoga Island, SE Sulawesi, Indonesia. Her thesis was entitled Marine resource dependence, resource use patterns and identification of economic performance criteria within a small Indo Pacific island community. This study used the example of Kaledupa to provide a detailed case study of a small island community with high natural resource dependence. The study details natural resource use patterns and the extensive local complexities that must be understood for any chance of management success, it also highlights the importance of marine resources to the local economy. A series of potential economic performance criteria were developed which could be used in the development of appropriate management plans that aim to maintain ecological wealth and develop sustainable utilisation, whilst maintaining or improving the economic status of local user groups and maintaining local participation and support.
|Dr Steve McMellor, Essex University|
Dr Steve McMellor collected data from OpWall sites in Indonesia, Egypt and Honduras and developed a thesis entitled Biotic Indices of Reef Health. His research was based around the development of a classification scheme for coral reef health and also an Index of Biotic Integrity to act as a diagnostic monitoring and management tool. There have been many calls for such an Index in the literature, yet there still remains no widely accepted method for quantifying the health of a coral reef. Such an index will allow the monitoring of management actions as well as increasing social capital by allowing the involvement of many different stakeholders by communicating results of monitoring at many different levels.
|Dr Sarah Pilgrim, Essex University|
Sarah’s thesis was entitled “A Cross-Cultural Study into Local Ecological Knowledge”. For decades now, since the birth of industrialisation, human populations, particularly in the Western world, have become less and less reliant upon and connected with their local land. With this departure from the land has come a departure from traditional knowledge systems. Generations of accumulated observations are being lost or replaced by modern knowledge systems. With industrialisation now spreading to remote regions threatening traditional knowledge bases, this investigation looks at inter- and intra-cultural variation in knowledge, particularly in terms of economic development and resource dependence within communities in the UK, India and Indonesia. Significantly lower ecological knowledge levels were observed where economic development was high and resource dependence low. As level of resource dependence of a community decreased, the age at which ecological knowledge of individuals became saturated increased and rate of knowledge acquisition slowed. Progressive loss in the younger generations was observed at the industrialised sites. The teaching methods of formal education and the influence of television were found to be contributing to this pattern of loss. At the developing study sites, ecological knowledge was found to be gender-differentiated. This is a product of societal roles and daily activities, unlike in industrialised areas where lifestyle choices were the most important predictor of ecological knowledge. For instance, ecological knowledge was higher in individuals that grew up in rural areas, lived in rural areas during adulthood and made frequent visits to the countryside. Word-of-mouth and direct experience were found to be the most effective modes of knowledge transfer across all sites. The revealed patterns of knowledge loss contribute to our understanding of the future of ecological knowledge bases globally and action that may be taken to prevent further decline in the light of economic development.
|Dr Jon Shrives, Oxford University|
Jon Shrives finished his PhD at Oxford University with part financial and field support from the Operation Wallacea Honduras marine research programme. The research took place over three full summer seasons on Cayos Cochinos, Honduras and involved aspects of coral reef ecology and impacts. In particular, he studied the ecological interactions of coral diseases and other indicators of reef health with abiotic (water chemistry and physic) and biotic factors (algal productivity and domination). These factors were related to anthropogenic sources such as pressures from local village activities and river runoff from the mainland.
|Dr Jose Nunez-Mino, Oxford University|
Jose Nunez-Mino completed his PhD with financial and field support from the Operation Wallacea Honduras forest programme as part of a CASE NERC studentship. His thesis is entitled “Biodiversity Indicators and Conservation Priorities for Cusuco National Park, Honduras”. This research looks at how the structure and pattern of biological diversity across various taxonomic groups varies in relation to habitat structure, spatial location, altitude and disturbance in what is a highly heterogeneous tropical montane forest park. On the applied side, the information focuses and prioritises conservation targets for a management plan as well as provides guidelines for sustainable long term monitoring.
|Dr Tom Martin, Lancaster University|
Tom completed a thesis entitled Avifauna, environmental disturbance and biodiversity in two global biodiversity hotspots from data sets collected by the OpWall teams in Honduras and Indonesia. The research project aimed to examine the relationship between avifaunal communities and anthropogenic environmental disturbance in two highly important yet poorly researched ornithological regions; Neotropical cloud forest in Honduras and lowland Wallacean rainforest in Indonesia. The thesis focused particularly on assessing the vulnerabilities of the range-restricted and endemic bird species, which are characteristic of these study sites, and also on examining the extent to which avifauna populations can be utilised as bio-monitors for biodiversity as a whole.
|Dr Ben Green, Essex University|
Ben Green collected field data on Hoga for his thesis entitled Spatial Ecology of Fish Populations of Wetland Habitats, which in Indonesia involves considerable work in the mangrove forests around Hoga. Mangroves are important and often overlooked ecosystems, vital for the functioning of the whole tropical marine environment. His work involved identifying factors that determine the structure of the fish populations that inhabit the mangroves at high tide. Another interest is habitat connectivity, in particular the movement of fish larvae between mangrove, seagrass and reef habitats.
|Dr Simon Segar, Reading University|
Simon is collecting data at our Indonesian forest site for his PhD on speciation and community ecology of non- pollinating fig-wasps. Simon together with Professor James Cook have found that during mutualism, a cooperative relationship between two different species, a third parasitic species may help to keep the relationship stable. During mutualism, both species benefit. However, the long-term relationship between them can be threatened by individuals who take too much advantage of the relationship in the short-term for their own benefit. This new research suggests that the stable mutualism between tropical figs and pollinator wasps, which is about 100 million years old, may be maintained partly by parasitic wasps. This is contrary to the commonly held belief that parasites always have a negative effect
|Dr Pelayo Salinas, University of Wellington|
Pelayo’s PhD involves the development of microsatellite markers to investigate patterns of connectivity between populations of a common NZ gastropod (Austrolittorina cincta). Several populations are being characterized across New Zealand’s North and South Islands, including several Marine Reserves around the Cook Strait region. Also, Pelayo is conducting a large-scale recruitment study that in conjunction with molecular analysis will provide an estimate on how far the A. cincta larvae travels. Another component of her PhD investigates the effects of locally available larvae on recruitment. Pelayo has conducted a set of field surveys and experiments to investigate the effect of hard coral coverage upon hard coral recruitment rates across reefs under different degrees of disturbance.
|Dr Dan Exton, Essex University|
Dan Exton has been working with Operation Wallacea for a number of years now, carrying out research into a range of topics regarding coral reef ecology. After focusing on the functional ecology of reef fish species, and the environmental impacts of subsistence fisheries techniques, he has recently completed his PhD titled ‘Isoprene Production in the Marine Environment’. Isoprene is produced by autotrophs as a thermotolerance mechanism, and Dan is hoping to fill the large gap in the literature regarding marine sources of this important gas by investigating the level of production in various taxonomic groups and the mechanisms behind emission rates.
|Dr Ian Hendy, Portsmouth University|
Ian collected data for his PhD from the mangrove sites in Indonesia and developed a thesis on Niche creation for cryptofauna by teredinid bivalves in mangrove ecosystems. Extensive field surveys of the mangroves provided a comprehensive assessment of the forest structure and standing stock of large woody debris. Wood-boring animals and cryptic communities found living within the galleries made by the wood-borers were then identified. In-situ experiments using wooden panels provided rates of decay and wood consumption rates over temporal and spatial parameters. Laboratory work was undertaken to further expand the project. Ian was supervised by Dr Simon Cragg.
|Dr Gabby Ahmadia, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi|
Gabby’s PhD was conducted at with partial field support from the Operation Wallacea Marine Research Programme. The primary focus of her research was examining how larger spatial scale factors effect habitat utilization of cryptobenthic fish. These are small fish that live close to the benthose and often have cryptic coloration, consequently, they are often missed in visual surveys. Recent research has revealed that they occur in high density and diversity and are likely to have an importation role in ecosystem dynamics. Gabby’s work in Indonesia was not only a providing a further understanding of their ecology in Indonesia, but also provided a baseline of the diversity and density of cryptobenthic fish in the Wakatobi National Park.