Professor Richard Griffiths receives Zoological Society of London award

Professor Richard Griffiths has received the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) Marsh Award for Conservation Biology. Presented annually since 1991, the award recognises individuals for ‘contributions of fundamental science and its application to the conservation of animal species and habitats’.

In particular, ZSL praised Professor Griffiths for the huge breadth and depth of his research and policy outputs covering numerous areas of conservation, ranging from habitat loss and infectious diseases, to reintroduction, invasive species and the amphibian trade. They also recognised that numerous graduates supervised by Professor Griffiths at DICE have themselves become integral members of leading amphibian and reptile conservation organisations across the world.

Professor Griffiths has worked at the University of Kent for more than 20 years and served as the director of DICE between 2013 and 2015. He also serves on the Executive Committee of the World Congress of Herpetology and is President of the British Herpetological Society.

Professor Griffiths was presented with his award on 20 June at a ceremony at the Zoological Society of London. The citation for his award was read by Professor Geoff Boxshall FRS, ZSL’s Secretary. The full news report from ZSL can be read here.

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Dr Daniela Peluso on the intersection of anthropology and business

Dr Daniela Peluso explores the intersection of anthropology and business as guest editor of a special-themed edition of the Journal of Business Anthropology (JBA), entitled Anthropology of versus Anthropology for Business: Exploring the Borders and Crossovers Between an Anthropology of Business and Anthropological Consultancy. This special edition complements much of the research explored at the School of Anthropology and Conservation at Kent, one of the few places where anthropology and business can be studied.

Drawing on her other research interests, Dr Peluso also has had a chapter published in a new book that revisits marriage practices in Amazonia, The Anthropology of Marriage in Lowland South America: Bending and Breaking the Rules.

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Amphibian Conservation Research Symposium 2017

The Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) and the School of Anthropology and Conservation are proud to host the annual Amphibian Conservation Research Symposium (ACRS) between the 23rd and 25th of June. It is the only international symposium dedicated specifically to the sharing of research and strategies to empower the future of amphibian conservation. ACRS helps to bring together amphibian conservationists and researchers from around the world to gain experience, learn new ideas and make contacts. With a strong focus on early career conservation and research practitioners, ACRS is helping to build a future for global amphibian conservation efforts.

Each year ACRS brings together individuals who present talks and posters detailing evidence-based approaches and management strategies that promote amphibian conservation. Previous topics have covered disease, ecotoxicology, genetics, ex situ husbandry, captive breeding, reintroduction programs, surveying techniques, habitat utilization, in situ programs, amphibian trade and urban ecology.

The keynote speakers for this year are:

The symposium will take place in Marlowe Lecture Theatre 1.

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George C. Williams Prize awarded for most significant article published in 2017

Dr Sarah Myers, who recently completed her PhD at the School, Dr Sarah Johns and former staff member Dr Oskar Burger have been awarded the George C. Williams Prize for the most significant article published in the flagship journal of the International Society for Evolution, Medicine & Public Health. Their paper is entitled Postnatal depression and reproductive success in modern, low-fertility contexts.

The prize consists of a $5000 award and travel, lodging and free registration to present the paper at the annual meeting of the Society, this year to be held in Groningen, Netherlands between August 18th and 21st.

The Prize recognises the contributions of George C Williams to evolutionary medicine, and aims to encourage and highlight important research in this growing field. In a seminal 1957 paper, Williams initiated work on several problems central to medicine, including an evolutionary theory of ageing and life history traits including menopause. He did important work on the problem of why sex exists. Perhaps his most lasting contribution is his 1966 book Adaptation and Natural Selection, a critique of group selection that transformed how biologists think about the evolution of sociality. In the 1990s he collaborated with Randolph Nesse on a series of papers and a book that inspired much ongoing work on how evolutionary biology can help us understand disease and improve human health.

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Gold award for Kent in Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)

The University has been awarded a gold rating, the highest, in the UK Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

Based on the evidence available, the TEF Panel judged that Kent delivers consistently outstanding teaching, learning and outcomes for its students. It is of the highest quality found in the UK.

A total of 295 higher education providers took part in the TEF. In the assessment, 59 providers were rated gold.

Kent’s Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Dame Julia Goodfellow, was the first to receive the news. She said: “I am absolutely delighted that the strength of our teaching and our longstanding commitment to academic excellence has been acknowledged in this way. The hard work and dedication of our staff and students continues to ensure that the University of Kent has some of the best teaching in the country. I would like to thank all those who have made this possible.”

In its statement of findings for Kent’s award, the TEF Panel reported that ‘students from all backgrounds achieve consistently outstanding outcomes. Very high proportions of students from all backgrounds continue with their studies and then progress to employment, notably exceeding the provider benchmarks. The metrics indicate very high levels of student satisfaction with teaching, academic support and assessment and feedback.’

The Panel considered all the information in Kent’s submission in relation to the TEF criteria and stated that its judgement reflects, in particular, evidence of:

  • an outstanding Student Success Project dedicated to closing the attainment gap for students with protected characteristics
  • an institutional culture which facilitates, values and rewards excellent teachingand which is embedded across the institution
  • the provision of a wide range of co-curricular opportunities for students to enhance their skills
  • physical and digital learning resources of the highest quality
  • a flexible and personalised approach to academic support for students which is underpinned by a college system and enhanced through student peer mentoring and an academic adviser scheme
  • a systematic approach to embedding employability in the curriculum and providing employment placements for large numbers of students which, together, enable them to acquire the knowledge, skills and understanding that are most highly valued by employers

Implemented by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the TEF aims to recognise, reward and improve excellent learning and teaching at higher education providers across the UK. It also aims to provide students with clear information about where teaching quality is best and where students have achieved the best outcomes.

The awards are decided by an independent TEF Panel of experts, including academics, students and employer representatives.

You can view the full results table here.

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Dr Jake Bicknell receives Conservation award for Outstanding Student

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ Conservation Science award for an outstanding PhD student (2017) has been presented to Dr Jake Bicknell.

Jake, who works in the Durrell Institute of Conservation & Ecology (DICE), will receive a specially commissioned medal and cash prize of £500.

The RSPB prize is open to postgraduates who have been awarded a PhD in any area of conservation science at a UK university within the last two years. The PhD must be likely to make a significant contribution to the conservation of any species of animal or plant, communities or habitats anywhere in the world.

Students who have conducted original and outstanding doctoral research in conservation science are nominated by their academic departments before the winner is chosen by the RSPB’s team of scientists.

Jake’s PhD, entitled Contemporary conservation in Guyana: the role of Reduced-Impact Logging and protected areas in a sustainable future, is about solutions towards conservation of the world’s tropical forests.

He is now continuing his research on tropical forests as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in DICE.

The award was presented at the RSPB’s annual event, which this year was held at the Cambridge Conservation Initiative’s David Attenborough Building on 21st June.

You can read Jake’s blog about receiving the award on the RSPB website.

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Dr Zoe Davies heads to Glastonbury for Sex & Bugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll tour

Dr Davies will join a supergroup of researchers at the five-day festival. The Sex & Bugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll roadshow, championed by the British Ecological Society (BES),  is an initiative to take scientific and environmental matters to the general public at popular summer time events.

This year’s event focuses on the Hidden Wonders of Woodlands. Dr Davies will be leading a project within the event to ‘Create your ideal Woodland’ that will also be used to produce a survey on the perception of woodlands, supported by the Durrell Institute for Conservation and Ecology (DICE).

The Universities of Lancaster, Bangor and Oxford are also involved and they will all be accompanied by bees, dung beetles, worms and ladybirds to give festival visitors that opportunity to discover unusual woodland ladybirds and astonishing fungi as well as learning about the bacteria living on their festival kit.

Sex & Bugs & Rock ‘n Roll will be in the Green Futures Field at Glastonbury from 21-25 June 2017. The event can be followed online at www.festivalbugs.org and on Twitter @BESRoadies using the hashtag #festivalbug.

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Illegal wildlife trade growing on the dark web

Research by Kent experts has found a small but growing amount of illegal wildlife trade on the dark web, posing a new challenge to law enforcement agencies attempting to clamp down on this practice.

Dr David Roberts from DICE and Dr Julio Hernandez-Castro from the School of Computing have spent the last year analysing the dark web to monitor how it is being used for the trade of illegal wildlife items. They found the majority of illegal wildlife items being traded are ‘bycatch’, whereby the wildlife element of the product is incidental to the reason the items are being bought and sold on the dark web. Popular items on the dark web like this are cacti that are traded for their hallucinogenic properties and high-end counterfeit products, such as fake Chanel handbags, that contain reptile skin.

However, during their monitoring the researchers also started to see evidence of sellers beginning to offer illegal wildlife products. One notable example was a collection of rhino horns being sold via a dark web market called Alphabay. The vendor had previously only focused on selling prescription drugs, but in August 2016 began offering rhino horns and tusks.

The researchers determined that the items are most likely genuine based on the information posted, although they noted that on two occasions they found the images being used had originally come from US Fish and Wildlife Service press releases. It is therefore unclear if these are sting operations or merely use of ‘stock’ images. Another seller appears to have become active since January and has a high number of illegal wildlife items on offer, including a black rhino horn, an elephant tusk, an ivory statue and an ivory case. As yet, the items remain unsold.

The researchers also found another seller that they believe to be either a scam, or more likely an undercover journalist group, offering a case of rhino horns. Despite this small but growing evidence of illegal wildlife trade on the dark web, Dr Roberts and Dr Hernandez-Castro say it seems likely that most criminals engaged in selling items of this nature are on the public web as enforcement against these activities remains inadequate. Furthermore, of those that are selling illegal wildlife items on the dark web, it seems likely they are doing so because they are engaged in other illegal activities, such as the sale of prescription drugs, and so do not want a ‘surface web’ presence.

However, the researchers have cautioned against sting operations by journalists or conservationists on the ‘surface web’, as this could send more illegal wildlife sellers to the dark web where it becomes much harder for law enforcement to take action. The findings were published in the latest issue of Oryx, in an article titled Bycatch and illegal wildlife trade on the dark web.

The findings come at the same time as a report from experts at Interpol’s Global Complex for Innovation that also found limited, but clear, evidence of criminals using the dark web to sell illicit wildlife items from endangered species such as rhino horn, elephant ivory and tiger parts and products.

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Dr Nicholas Newton-Fisher publishes paper in Animal Behaviour

Dr Nicholas Newton-Fisher has published a paper on ‘Grooming decisions under structural despotism: the impact of social rank and bystanders among wild male chimpanzees’ in the journal Animal Behaviour.

Understanding the evolution of cooperation remains a central concern in studies of animal behaviour, with fundamental issues being how individuals avoid being cheated, or ‘short-changed’, and how partners are chosen. Economic decisions made during social interactions should depend upon the availability of potential partners nearby, as these bystanders generate temptations to defect from the current partner. The influence of bystanders is highlighted in two theoretical approaches, biological markets theory and parcelling, both economic models of behaviour. Here, Dr Newton-Fisher and his research team tested predictions of these models using the grooming behaviour of wild male chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes, living under strong structural despotism, where grooming is exchanged both for agonistic support and for itself, and so they have provided the first investigation of both presence and value of bystanders on chimpanzees’ grooming decisions.

Dr Newton-Fisher’s research has found that male chimpanzees take into account the relative value (rank) of bystanders compared to that of their current partner, with this more important than bystander numbers. High-ranking bystanders appeared to generate incentives to defect from a potentially cooperative interaction and it has been found that grooming effort was parcelled into discrete episodes, with smaller parcels used when a bystander outranked the current partner. The number of bystanders also generated a temptation to defect, as bidirectional (reciprocated) bouts were more likely to occur with fewer bystanders. Such bouts were more likely with smaller rank distances between groomer and recipient. No influence of grooming relationship on initial investment was found: groomers did not appear to trust that they would receive grooming in return, even from those with whom they had a history of strongly reciprocal grooming. The findings of the research team are consistent with an economic-benefits, markets-based approach, but not a relationship model paradigm. The work highlights the importance of considering the immediate social context (number and quality of bystanders) in studies of cooperation.

The full article is available to read here.

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Santiago Montero-Cruzada is welcomed as academic visitor

The School of Anthropology & Conservation welcomes Santiago Montero-Cruzada, who will be here as an academic visitor on and off for 6 months, with support from a Spanish government academic development grant. Santiago is currently finishing his PhD in ecological anthropology (Society and Environment Program, Universidad Pablo de Olavide, Spain) on human-animal relations and hunting (with a focus on communication and semiotics) in the Sierra Morena Extremeña (Badajoz, Spain). Santiago is also very interested, both as a practitioner and researcher, on human-livestock relations, coming from a family of mixed-livestock farmers and shepherds.  During his visit Santiago will be working on several publications to continue his academic portfolio.

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