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Tom Smart

Research Postgraduate (PhD)

Research Postgraduate (PhD) in the Department of Biosciences


My research focuses on the conservation role of zoos and aquaria under global change. As anthropogenic stressors such as climate and land use change accelerate global biodiversity loss, an ever-increasing number of species may require some form of ex situ conservation interventions. Zoos have finite space and resources and therefore cannot maintain sustainable populations of all threatened species in their collections. Indeed, zoos must also balance the needs of ex situ conservation with the requirement to house attractive - though not always particularly endangered - species that appeal to the public and drive visitation, from which zoos garner the vast majority of their revenue.

Working with Chester Zoo, who co-supervise and CASE fund my PhD, my research straddles both biological and social sciences. I use species distribution modelling to predict the impacts of climate and land use change on species habitable ranges, and apply these to infer future threat status under different future climate scenarios. To understand species traits that drive species 'charisma' and attractiveness to the public, I combine zoo-based studies of visitor behaviour and paired-choice survey techniques to derive a metric of species' potential popularity among zoo visitors.

By combining metrics of species endangerment and trait-based estimates of species attractiveness, I aim to produce simulations of optimal zoo collections under different climate change scenarios, balancing the needs of threatened species conservation and collection popularity.