Conservation and conflict

 Armed conflict is unfortunately common, and is especially so in tropical developing nations which simultaneously often contain high levels of biodiversity and relatively intact ecosystems. Despite the long history of conflict, few studies provide quantitative estimates of conflict’s effects on conservation outcomes. How do the military activities, decay of local social and economic institutions, poverty, and displacement of human communities associated with war affect species and ecosystems? Understanding the effects of conflict on conservation is crucial, given the increasing evidence that progressing climate change will likely lead to more frequent armed conflict.

Large-scale patterns in conflict and conservation outcomes
My ongoing work in this area includes quantifying the effects of conflict frequency and severity on wildlife populations, deforestation rates, and international aid for conservation.

War-driven mammal declines and their ecological aftermath
Also, since 2012 I have been conducting fieldwork in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park , where heavy poaching associated with the country’s 1977–1992 civil war caused the near-extirpation of the park’s once-abundant ungulate, elephant, and predator populations. I showed that the removal of elephants and other browsers over three decades increased savanna tree cover. This is despite a relatively high fire frequency in Gorongosa, which may in-part be due to the decline of grazing mammals that normally consume herbaceous fire fuels and could reduce recruitment of trees. If the expansion of tree cover continues, parts of the park could become too forest-like for its savanna and grassland-adapted species. Luckily, intensive restoration efforts in the last decade have begun to recover the park’s wildlife populations. I have continuing projects to monitor changes in tree growth and demography, plus browser habitat selection in Gorongosa’s savannas. One possibility is that the recovering elephant population will, through their habit of toppling trees while foraging, re-open areas where trees recruited since the war-driven mammal declines.