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Department of Zoology


Assessing socioecological differences across Liberian land use systems

Lead supervisor: Michael Pashkevich, Zoology

Co-Supervisor: Edgar Turner, Zoology

Brief summary

Using data collected from a large-scale observational study, this MPhil project will assess differences in socioecological conditions between rainforest and agricultural systems in Liberia.

Importance of the area of research concerned

Agricultural expansion is occurring most rapidly in the tropics, which also harbour the bulk of global biodiversity. Research is urgently needed to understand how agricultural management affects tropical ecological and social systems, and to identify management strategies that benefit local ecosystems at little or no cost to crop yields. Whilst such research has occurred in Southeast Asia and tropical South America, there has been comparatively little research conducted in tropical Africa. This is despite increased agricultural production in the region, and the importance of agriculture to the livelihoods, health, and wellbeing of farmers and local communities.

Project summary

Using data collected from a large-scale observational study, this project will assess differences in socioecological conditions between rainforest and agricultural systems in Liberia. The project asks, “How does rainforest conversion to agriculture affect socioecological conditions in Liberia?” and “What are the relative differences in socioecological conditions between Liberian agricultural systems?” The scope of the project is considerably flexible, and the selected candidate will have several social and ecological datasets on which to potentially base their studies. Results will improve core ecological understanding in the region, and will help inform best management practices in Liberian agricultural landscapes.

What will the student do?

The student will work with members of the Liberian agricultural industry, and specifically with researchers at Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL), to analyse socioecological data collected from replicated plots in native rainforest and agricultural systems. Depending on the student’s interest, COVID cases in the UK and West Africa, University approval, and the success of funding applications, the student may have the option to conduct fieldwork to collect additional socioecological data. This will involve living and working in GVL plantations in Liberia. Regardless of partaking in fieldwork, the student will have opportunity to work with industry partners remotely to influence ongoing data collection in the study plots, and collate industry data to design and lead relevant analyses.

We especially encourage applications from students with a strong understanding of ecological statistics and fieldwork experience, and students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in the natural sciences.


Drescher, J., Rembold, K., Allen, K., Beckscha, P., Buchori, D., Clough, Y., Faust, H., Fauzi, A. M., Gunawan, D., Hertel, D., Irawan, B., Jaya, I. N. S., Klarner, B., Kleinn, C., Knohl, A., Kotowska, M. M., Krashevska, V., Krishna, V., Leuschner, C., … Scheu, S. (2016). Ecological and socio-economic functions across tropical land use systems after rainforest conversion. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 371.

Luke, S. H., Advento, A. D., Aryawan, A. A. K., Adhy, D. N., Ashton-Butt, A., Barclay, H., Dewi, J. P., Drewer, J., Dumbrell, A. J., Edi, E., Eycott, A. E., Harianja, M. F., Hinsch, J. K., Hood, A. S. C., Kurniawan, C., Kurz, D. J., Mann, D. J., Matthews Nicholass, K. J., Naim, M., … Turner, E. C. (2020). Managing oil palm plantations more sustainably: large-scale experiments within the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function in Tropical Agriculture (BEFTA) Programme. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, 2(January).


You can find out about applying for this project on the Department of Zoology postgraduate webpage.

Alternatively, contact Michael Pashkevich ( or Ed Turner ( for more information.