Action-orientated research for conservation: knowledge-exchange studentship awarded
16th March 2021
CCI is pleased to announce that it has awarded a Knowledge-Exchange Studentship to Esme Ashe-Jepson, from the University of Cambridge’s Museum of Zoology. Esme’s work focuses on exploring the habitat requirements and temperature sensitivity of caterpillars, and is being undertaken in conjunction with the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire (WTBCN; a member of the Cambridge Conservation Forum).
Butterflies are particularly sensitive to changes in temperature, but studies have generally considered responses in adult butterflies, despite caterpillars being more vulnerable because they tend not to move far and are reliant on specific food plants. Esme’s study quantifies the distribution, growth, survival, and thermal buffering ability across multiple butterfly species, as well as quantifying microclimate across varying habitats and management at four WTBCN reserves. The project will work with land managers at WTBCN to assess experimentally the impacts of conservation management, including scrub clearance and creation of artificial banks, on microclimate and caterpillars. An important outcome of this work will be to inform conservation practices, ensuring management is adaptable to the demands of a changing climate.
Esme said: “With this grant, I will be able to undertake new research with the Wildlife Trust to continue to improve conservation management for butterflies in the face of climate change. I am particularly excited to build and test the effectiveness of experimental topographical features for maintaining the conservation value of nature reserves under climate change.”
Josh Hellon, the Monitoring & Research Manager at the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire, explained that: “This project will provide us with indispensable knowledge of species and habitats on some of our most important nature reserves. The scientific evidence will enable us to make informed management decisions to protect these sites for the future. The Trust are delighted to be involved in such an exciting project, including innovative practical habitat management.”
A number of staff from the WTBCN will be involved in supporting Esme in her research. This will include experts in both monitoring and in active management work on the Trust’s reserves, who will share their knowledge to build Esme’s skills in these areas. Furthermore, Esme will work with teams of Wildlife Trust volunteers on the reserves to collect data and to manage the habitats that Esme will be investigating experimentally.
The knowledge-exchange studentship awarded to Esme is one of three such studentships that make up CCI’s Fostering action-orientated research for conservation project. This initiative catalyses action-orientated research by forging strong links between academics from the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute and leading conservation practitioners from CCI’s partners. The research undertaken by the students is intended to deliver intellectual insight to the conservation organisation involved, while the experiences and insight gained by the students through their engagement with biodiversity conservation organisations informs their academic research and builds their understanding of cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral activity within conservation.
CCI is extremely grateful to the Evolution Education Trust for establishing the Fostering action-orientated research for conservation project.
Butterfly banks update
The butterfly banks project has made substantial progress over the last year, with everything in place for a long-term monitoring programme to investigate the effects of the banks on butterflies and wider biodiversity. In particular, we have collected a wealth of baseline data, assessing temperature profiles (using dataloggers), plant communities, ground invertebrate communities (with pitfall traps), butterfly communities, and butterfly temperature control (using fine temperature probes) at the sites before the banks were installed. This base-line data is essential for monitoring the effectiveness of the banks in different areas over time. The banks themselves were installed successfully in September 2021. Since then, we have carried out another survey of ground invertebrates and reinstalled dataloggers to record the immediate effects of the bank set-up. From next spring, we’ll continue monitoring the banks for vegetation, butterflies and ground-dwelling invertebrates to record what happens as they develop.
Watch recent BBC coverage of the project: