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Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities

Lead supervisor: Lynn Dicks, Zoology

Co-supervisor: Megan McKerchar, Cool Farm Alliance

This is a CASE project with Cool Farm Alliance.

Brief summary: 
This project explores how we might monitor progress towards the sustainable agriculture target (Target 10) of the Global Biodiversity Framework, which includes 'a substantial increase in the application of biodiversity-friendly practices in agriculture'.
Importance of the area of research concerned: 
Agriculture is widely accepted to be the main driver of biodiversity loss in terrestrial environments worldwide. The new Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework sets a target to manage agricultural landscapes sustainably, ‘including through a substantial increase of the application of biodiversity friendly practices’. Progress towards this target is difficult to measure. The Cool Farm Biodiversity metric provides a possible indicator. It is an online tool developed by the University of Cambridge in partnership with the Cool Farm Alliance. Sitting alongside greenhouse gas emission and water footprint calculators, it quantifies how well farm management supports biodiversity, based on the uptake of management actions and areas of habitat at farm scale. The metric combines expert judgement with scientific evidence, informed by stakeholders. The tool can be used to compare farms for their biodiversity impact and track improvements over time, and easily scales up to entire supply chains, to report against Science-Based Targets for Nature. It is available in 14 languages, with over 20,000 registered users, and several thousand farms have already been assessed around the world.
Project summary : 
This project aims to validate the Cool Farm Biodiversity metric against real biodiversity data, to develop new approaches to link scores to the magnitude of the biodiversity effect, and to incorporate newly emerging methods for measuring biodiversity impact, based on remote sensing and global species range datasets. Temperate forest, and Mediterranean and dry shrubland versions of the metric are already available, with a version for tropical forest biomes in late-stage development (drafted but not yet operational). The project will scale the tool to become fully global by finalising the tropical forest version, including temperate and tropical grassland biomes. Through the Cool Farm Alliance membership, the student will work internationally, with samples of farms from different biomes.
What will the student do?: 
First, the student will derive scores for actions to enhance biodiversity on farms in the moist and dry tropical forest biomes. They will use a well-established method combining expert judgement with evidence assessment, based on the Conservation Evidence database. This includes convening expert groups and running Delphi processes (a formal consensus method for expert elicitation). The student will review available biodiversity datasets, methods and approaches that could be used to derive empirical data for ‘Essential Biodiversity Variables’ in a large sample of farms where assessments can also be conducted. In partnership with the Cool Farm Alliance Biodiversity Working Group, they will generate a dataset to test the relationship between Cool Farm Biodiversity Metric scores and other accepted measures or indicators of biodiversity. Depending on the students’ interest, there are opportunities to incorporate measures of biodiversity impact, in terms of contribution to extinction risk from conversion to farmland or habitat restoration; to explore how to incorporate empirically-derived effect sizes for different farm management actions; or to incorporate yield/production trade-offs.
References - references should provide further reading about the project: A paper in review, describing the method in detail, is available in request.
MacLeod, C. J., Brandt, A. J., Dicks, L. V. (2022). Facilitating the wise use of experts and evidence to inform local environmental decisions. People and Nature 4:904-917.
Sutherland, W. J., Taylor, N. G., MacFarlane, D., Amano, T., Christie, A. P., Dicks, L. V., . . . Wordley, C. F. R. (2019). Building a tool to overcome barriers in research-implementation spaces: The Conservation Evidence database. Biological Conservation 238:108199.
You can find out about applying for this project on the Department of Zoology page.