Project Highlights:

  • Use state-of-the-art ecological modelling techniques to identify how multi-dimensional biodiversity changes through time in Indonesian forests as a function of forest loss and land-use change
  • Use novel and extensive datasets to model species relaxation and improve extinction debt identification
  • Work directly with Operation Wallacea, who have collected large amounts of time-series biodiversity data on Indonesia


The reported impacts of forest loss and land-use change are almost universally negative, and habitat loss more generally is argued to be the biggest driver of the current extinction crisis (Sala et al., 2000; Haddad et al., 2015). The impacts of land-use change have been particularly acute in Indonesia, an area with exceptionally high species diversity (Myers et al., 2000). However, the effects of land-use change on biodiversity are not instantaneous; rather, the full impacts take time to become apparent (Kuussaari et al., 2009). For example, following forest loss, species whose local distribution is contained within the lost forest go locally extinct, but those left pack into the remaining natural habitat and thus diversity is artificially high. Species diversity of the remaining habitat then relaxes to a new, reduced, level; the difference between the original diversity level and the reduced diversity level has been termed the extinction debt (Tilman, 1994). However, the resource requirements required to collect ecological samples of sites through time that track changes in surrounding land use mean that the majority of land-use change - biodiversity studies have been based on a space-for-time substitution framework (e.g. González-Varo et al., 2015). Thus, there is an urgent need for additional studies focused on multiple taxa that explicitly model species relaxation and extinction debt using suitable time-series data (see Dornelas et al., 2014, for a more general extensive analysis of time-series data in ecology), particularly along land-use change gradients.

This project will combine remote sensing data processing with biodiversity data analysis to provide a comprehensive evaluation of the effects of land-use change on biodiversity in Indonesian forests. The project will be based on an already generated 45 year (1972-2017) validated Indonesian land-use and forest loss and gain map that is spatially-resolved at 30 m pixels (Figure 1), in combination with a 14-year time-series dataset of multiple taxa in a large number of forest plots located in Indonesia.

This project has the potential to substantially advance our understanding of the temporal nature of the effects of forest loss and land-use change in a highly threatened biodiversity hotspot.

The project collaborates with Operation Wallacea, a major source of time-series inventory data from a number of different tropical forests, including Indonesia.

Figure 1: 2015 land cover map for Indonesia based on recently developed land cover classification algorithms


The project will be based on a new cloud-corrected 43-year dataset of Indonesian forest loss using the full satellite observational record (1972-2016), supported with annual data on land-cover change (1990-2016). Biodiversity data will be provided by Operation Wallacea and will comprise yearly samples (since 2004) of multiple taxa (trees, birds, butterflies, large mammals and herpetofauna) in 48 plots (0.25 ha; set up by Operation Wallacea) distributed across a land-use disturbance gradient on the island of Buton, Indonesia. Additional biodiversity information will be collated from monthly transect walks from within all 116 Indonesian conservation areas and will greatly increase the dataset spatial and temporal resolution (data made available by the Ministry of Forestry and Environment).

For each of the 48 plots, community level metrics (including species diversity, functional diversity, temporal and spatial beta-diversity, and the species abundance distribution) will be calculated for each year (2004–2017) and changes in these metrics through time will be evaluated using cutting-edge time-series modelling. Both plot level variables (e.g. altitude, slope) and landscape level variables, such as forest cover, forest loss and land-use change will be analysed. Novel extinction debt modelling will also be undertaken.

Training and Skills

The student will be trained in multiple aspects of biodiversity analysis, including standard ecological statistics, temporal and spatial modelling, code development, and the analysis of remote sensing data.

The student will participate in an Operation Wallacea field campaigns in order to gain understanding of the realities and limitations of gathering experimental data in the field. The successful student will have numerous opportunities to undertake additional trips to relevant oversees institutions to foster collaborations and to help develop their networks. Support will be provided to help the student disseminate the results of the project through various outlets, including peer-reviewed publications and international conferences.


Year 1: Familiarisation with concepts, the relevant ecological theory and both datasets (i.e. the land-use change remote sensing data and the biodiversity plot data). Field trip to forest plot site in Indonesia. Training in the different modelling techniques.

Year 2: Time-series modelling of temporal changes in species diversity and functional diversity through time (Paper 1), and modelling of the extinction debt (Paper 2). Presentation of results at international conference.

Year 3: A full landscape level analysis of the impact of land-use change through time on multiple dimensions of biodiversity calculated using the plot data (Paper 3). Presentation of results at international conference. Final writing up of thesis.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

The studentship is offered in collaboration with Operation Wallacea who have a unique forest biodiversity inventory dataset consisting of 43 plots in Indonesia. The benefits of this collaboration will provide the student access to this dataset, as well as the opportunity to join a large, multi-disciplinary fieldwork project within the study area, where their work will be supported by the expertise of a range of taxonomic specialists, as well as scientists comprising the core opwall research team.

The student will also be part of a wider team in the University of Birmingham researching forest ecology and global environmental change issues.