New studentship award to support indigenous participation with cutting edge AI practices to aid conservation efforts in West Africa

24th November 2021

Atewa Forest, Ghana © A Rocha Ghana

Fostering action-orientated research for conservation: new collaborative studentship awarded to Joycelyn Longdon, PhD student at the University of Cambridge.    

CCI is delighted to announce the award of its third Knowledge-Exchange Studentship to Joycelyn Longdon. Joycelyn has just commenced her doctoral studies with the University of Cambridge’s Artificial Intelligence for Environmental Risk (AI4ER) programme.

Joycelyn’s PhD focuses on the increasing use of state-of-the-art tools such as remote sensing and machine learning in the understanding and monitoring of forest ecosystems. While of great value to conservation efforts, such tools can widen the disconnect between conservation projects and indigenous communities and weaken important links to essential local knowledge. Joycelyn’s work investigates how to ensure that the benefits gained from including local knowledge and participation in the conservation process are not lost alongside use of these technologies.

Joycelyn’s Studentship is part of the Fostering action-orientated research for conservation programme supported by the Evolution Education Trust. The programme is designed to catalyse close working between academics and practitioners. It brings together academics from the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute with practitioners from CCI’s conservation organisation partners to supervise ‘knowledge-exchange’ doctoral studentships.

The Studentship grant will enable Joycelyn to work with researchers at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). The BTO has experience of using bioacoustics and machine learning to monitor wildlife across Europe. Working with Joycelyn, the BTO will build on their experience to investigate the use of acoustic monitoring to aid conservation efforts on-the-ground in West Africa. The Studentship funds will support the fieldwork, technological development and the co-creation of new knowledge with Indigenous communities through the deployment of acoustic recorders and subsequent application of machine learning techniques for the monitoring of deforestation and degradation events, as well as the biodiversity and health of Ghanaian forests.

This collaborative research with BTO will develop and implement a framework that explores new modes of scientific inquiry, addresses artificial intelligence ethics from a technical perspective, and repositions machine-learning as an important tool in ecology and conservation.

Joycelyn explained ‘With my work being so interdisciplinary the grant will enable me to pursue new collaborative opportunities by working with the BTO as well as on the ground partners with knowledge sharing between these fields being foundational to the success of the project.’

Professor Alan Blackwell, Joycelyn’s co-supervisor at the Artificial Intelligence for Environmental Risk programme, said ‘This is a great opportunity for applied research to be developed across disciplinary boundaries and in collaboration with local communities’.

Adham Ashton-Butt, Researcher at the BTO, outlined ‘Collaboration with Joycelyn will develop new methods for ecological monitoring in Ghana and build better research practices in conservation by working with indigenous groups.’

CCI is grateful to the Evolution Education Trust for establishing the Fostering action-orientated research for conservation programme.

Find out more about Joycelyn Longdon