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The effects of logging and forest disturbance on tropical river ecosystems

Supervisors: Dr Edgar Turner, Dr David Aldridge, Dr Sarah Luke


Importance of the area of research/Project summary:

Southeast Asia includes four of the world's identified ‘biodiversity hotspots’, but has experienced very widespread rainforest disturbance by logging, as well as conversion of forest to agriculture. As of 2010, the region had lost 70% of its lowland forest, with large areas being heavily degraded. Such land-use change has substantial impacts on freshwater ecosystems and can cause changes in water flow rates, sediment and organic matter input, and light. All of these factors can have negative effects on the abundance and diversity of macroinvertebrates, with changes in community assemblage being widely recorded. However, management strategies, such as maintaining forest margins by the side of waterways, may reduce some of these negative impacts, providing a pragmatic option for conservation of aquatic systems in modified tropical forest landscapes.

This project will assess the effectiveness of conserving different widths of river margins to buffer the impacts of logging on aquatic macroinvertebrates and associated ecosystem functions in tropical forest landscapes. Based in the Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems (SAFE) Project landscape in Sabah, Malaysia, this project will investigate the impacts of a recent wide-scale logging event on river margin and aquatic biodiversity and associated ecosystem processes. Uniquely, the project will draw on detailed historical data from the area, collected before the recent disturbance, to allow a before-after comparison. Results from the work will add substantially to existing knowledge of tropical riverine ecosystems, as well as provide results of real relevance to land management and rainforest restoration.

What the student will be doing/Details of training provided:

The student will carry out surveys on a range of different aquatic taxa and environmental factors on rivers throughout the SAFE landscape. Lab work will include identification of insect specimens, with support from the Insect Ecology Group and use of facilities and material in the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge. The student will also have access to insect specimens and data on ecosystem processes collected before the recent round of logging in the area, allowing a before-after comparison of the effects of widespread logging for timber extraction. Students will develop skills in a range of analytical techniques relevant to community ecology and will also have the opportunity to liaise with conservation practitioners and land-managers to inform active conservation work.

The student will be supported at all stages of the project set-up, data collection, analysis and write-up. Members of the Insect Ecology Group have a wide range of experience of working on the effects of habitat change in SE Asia, as well as the effects of logging on aquatic assemblages. Support will also be given in insect identification, using the excellent facilities and collections housed in the Museum of Zoology, Cambridge. Finally, the student will benefit from being based within the SAFE Project in Sabah, Malaysia, where there is a strong research base and collaborative researchers.


Luke SH, Nainar A, Walsh RPD, Bidin K, Barclay H, Chey VK, Ewers RM, Foster WA, Pfeifer M7, Reynolds G, Turner EC, Aldridge DC (2017) The effects of catchment and riparian forest quality on stream environmental conditions across a tropical rainforest and oil palm landscape in Malaysian Borneo. Ecohydrology, 10: e1827.

Luke SH, Dow RA, Butler S, Chey VK, Aldridge DC, Foster WA, Turner EC (2017) The impacts of habitat disturbance on adult and larval dragonflies (Odonata) in rainforest streams in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Freshwater Biology 62, 491–506. 


Equipment (from related projects and group funding) will be available to the student.