Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois / Urbana-Champaign

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2010
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Environmental Science, University of Michigan
Coping with Conservation: The Legacy of Biodiversity Aid on a West African Frontier

The impact of biodiversity conservation on rural communities represents one of the most controversial issues in international conservation research and policy, particularly in Africa. Scholarship in political ecology and other fields has focused primarily on how national parks and other protected areas affect local livelihoods. However, this literature has not yet considered conservation’s social impacts relative to climate variability and change. My dissertation research will address this important gap. The goal of my research project is to systematically analyze the legacy of a large externally-funded conservation project in Africa’s first transboundary biosphere reserve. Specifically, I ask how the project has affected rural household capacity to adapt in the face of a changing climate. The “W” Region Biosphere Reserve, named for a sharp double bend in the Niger River near the intersection of Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger, was established through the European Union-supported ECOPAS project from 2002-2008. With three distinct national political contexts structuring outcomes in a common territory, the W Reserve presents an ideal opportunity for comparative analysis of the effect of an external conservation intervention on local adaptive capacity. I will combine qualitative and quantitative methods to evaluate adaptive capacity before and after the ECOPAS project. This mixed methodology will help me to understand the complex socio-political setting of the project’s implementation and specify how key institutional variables mediate its effects on adaptive capacity in the three country contexts. My study will be among the first to explore the legacy of biodiversity conservation aid in the face of climate variability and change. Given the extensive number of projects across the tropical world like ECOPAS, which were designed to conserve biodiversity through community engagement, research results will be of broad theoretical and practical relevance.