Conserving biodiversity and maintaining the sustainable use of limited natural resources is a defining challenge of the 21st century. Increasingly, conservation goals are coming into conflict with goals that focus on food security and sustaining human livelihoods and well-being . It is therefore critical to understand how both social and ecological dynamics jointly affect sustainability . To predict the dynamics of social-ecological systems, models that integrate social and ecological processes are needed.
Mangrove forests are one of the most productive ecosystems on Earth, and they provide a wealth of goods and services including the following: food security, clean water provision, climate regulation, soil quality maintenance, coastal protection and recreational and spiritual space. Mangrove forests therefore have value by sustaining the livelihoods of millions of people, but also have real value in economic terms. However, over the past 50+ years, conflict between mangrove natural resources and human activity has developed, threatening the long-term survival of this globally important ecosystem. In order to succeed, mangrove conservation efforts need to consider both the natural resource and sensitivity towards local human livelihoods, enabling economic development in a sustainable way.
This project will develop and use individual-based (i.e., agent-based) models (IBMs) to simulate the social-ecological dynamics of mangrove systems in northern Vietnam. IBMs model discrete individuals using computer code, and can simulate complex systems in silico [3,4]. Interacting environmental, ecological, and social processes in the mangrove system will be modelled by developing the GMSE R package (Generalised Management Strategy Evaluation) .
The primary objective is to develop and simulate new IBMs to predict ecological and social change in the mangrove system of the Xuan Thuy National Park, northern Vietnam, as a consequence of different proposed management decisions. Model development could also allow prediction of the effects of climate change (e.g. global warming) and the value of carbon storage in the mangrove system, or evaluation of the long-term benefit of mangrove shoreline protection versus land use
development for aquaculture.
The student will address the following sub-objectives in the course of their research:
1. Develop a spatially-explicit social-ecological IBM that incorporates mangrove ecology and stakeholder behaviour within GMSE.
2. Parameterise their IBM using social and ecological data collected from the mangrove system in Vietnam.
3. Predict how social and ecological processes in the mangrove system will change as a consequence of changing environmental factors and different management policy options.
The student should have a background or strong interest in computer programming (ideally in R, C, or C++). They should also be interested in applying social-ecological models to real-world systems involving conservation and resource management. The student will benefit from supervisor expertise in theory, modelling, conservation biology and environmental sciences. This PhD will be part of a multi-million GBP consortium project led by the Lyell Centre ‘3SIP2C’, which aims to quantify the flow of plastic materials through the coastal environment of Vietnam and deliver solutions to reduce environmental and societal impacts in the long-term. This will ensure the scholar is part of an inspiring and innovative environment, supported by the project supervisors and 3SIP2C postdoctoral researchers. Should Covid-19 restrictions still be in place, physical distancing in the field will be possible, supplemented by close collaboration with our in-country colleagues.
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Sampling in shrimp pond-associated mangrove forests next to the Xuan Thuy National Park, northern Vietnam.
The Xuan Thuy National Park, where industries such as aquaculture (left) and artisanal fishing (right) are co-located with natural & restored mangrove ecosystems.