UCL Division of Biosciences


Annual Ben Collen Memorial Lecture

The lecture is in honour of Dr. Ben Collen who was a renowned conservation scientist and greatly admired colleague. Ben died in 2018 aged 40.

Professor Julia P G Jones, Bangor University 'Does conservation work and how do we know' - 02nd March 2020

The 2019 Nobel Prize for economics was won by Banerjee, Duflo and Kramer for their experimental approach to alleviating poverty. While the trio are considered heroes by many, their use of Randomized Control Trials to evaluate the impact of development interventions has been controversial. Conservation scientists are increasingly aware of the urgent need for better evidence of what works and what doesn’t, but experimental evaluation of the effectiveness of conservation interventions at the landscape scale remain rare. Using the example of a Randomized Control Trial of a Payment for Ecosystem Services scheme in the Bolivian Andes, I will illustrate some of the pros and cons of experimental evaluation in the complex socio-ecological context in which many conservation interventions are implemented. I will highlight that while randomization holds many advantages and we could be doing more, it is not practical or desirable for many common interventions (can you imagine randomizing the allocation of protected areas in a landscape?). I will show that robust statistical methods, ideally in combination with publication of pre-analysis plans, will be the best approach in many conservation contexts. The ultimate desire is that conservation science can avoid the acrimonious debate which has plagued the use of Randomized Control Trials in the field of poverty alleviation, and take a pragmatic approach to improving our understanding of what works in conservation.


Professor Rob Ewers, Imperial College London 'Rainforest Futures' - 04th March 2019 

Tropical rainforests are “more complex than the space station and more connected than the internet.” Yet they are under threat. Roughly one half of the world’s forests have been logged and agricultural expansion is rapidly pushing back forest frontiers. Understanding and predicting the fate of the many thousands of species in these remarkable habitats represents one of ecology’s greatest challenges.

New research is finding that damaged rainforests retain remarkable stores of biodiversity, and that biodiversity underpins the sustainability of agricultural landscapes such as oil palm plantations. Degraded forests are also surprisingly resilient ecosystems, but that resilience comes at a cost. Insects are losing their dominant position in the web of life, and time lags between human actions and their ecosystem consequences mean that our actions and choices today will resonate for decades to come.