Luke Nelson



My PhD aims to investigate the impacts of land-use change in West Africa on European-African migratory land birds and to identify and cost potential conservation solutions, in collaboration with the RSPB.

Long-distance migrant birds that overwinter in the humid tropics of West Africa are experiencing the highest rates of decline of UK birds. Studies indicate these declines may be driven by factors outside of these species’ breeding ranges, with land-use change in the over-wintering grounds being thought of as a key driver.

The humid tropics of West Africa have experienced high levels of land-use change, with forest being converted to a complex forest-agriculture matrix dominated by smallholder farms. These migrants overwinter at low densities over large areas of farmland, so typical conservation measures such as protected areas won’t be an effective conservation tool. Instead we could promote retention of migrant friendly features at a landscape level.

Building on previous RSPB fieldwork on wood warblers in Ghana, I will investigate the habitat associations of a suite of migrants working with Ghana Wildlife Society. Having identified features of value to migrants, I will then calculate economic costs of protecting or restoring these features within landscapes incorporating agricultural yield and carbon data.

Supervisors: Dr David Edwards, Dr John Mallord and Dr Colin Beale.

My PhD studentship is funded by NERC as part of the ACCE (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment) DTP, with the RSPB as a CASE partner.

Twitter: @luke_nelso