Darwin grant awarded to build new resilient ecosystems in the British Virgin Isles

  • Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A new collaboration between Dr Louise Soanes, the RSPB and conservationists in the Caribbean aims to improve scientific understanding of ecosystem resilience

Image - Darwin grant awarded to build new resilient ecosystems in the British Virgin Isles

Dr Louise Soanes of the University of Roehampton’s Life Sciences Department will be conducting investigations into how healthy ecosystems can weather the increasingly extreme storms and hurricanes brought about by climate change.

Past studies into resilience against extreme weather have focused on human-built structures, such as improved flood defences. As a result, they have often neglected the potential of healthy ecosystems in improving the resilience of islands to the effects of storms.

Dr Soanes will be leading a project focusing on the ecosystem of Jost Van Dyke, a small inhabited island in the British Virgin Islands. Working with the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds and the Jost Van Dyke Preservation Society, the project aims to assess the resilience of key habitats to extreme weather, develop community-led conservation efforts and raise awareness of how healthy natural habitats can increase the resilience of Jost Van Dyke and other islands to extreme weather.

Dr Soanes said ‘Jost Van Dyke is a perfect site for a case study, as it provides a variety of key habitats, including numerous marine and terrestrial nature reserves, and offshore cays—small, sandy islands on the surface of nearby coral reefs. The project supports ongoing conservation efforts and international agreements on the environment and biodiversity’.

The project is funded by a Darwin Plus grant and will run from April 2018 to April 2020. It comes at a crucial time, following on from the worst recorded hurricane season in the Caribbean: in September alone, a Category 4 and a Category 5 hurricane—the two most severe classes of hurricane, with wind speeds in the latter case exceeding 156 mph (251 km/h)—hit the British Virgin Islands, following severe flooding earlier in the year. Climate change models predict that the years to come will continue to have increases in hurricanes and other extreme weather events.

The Department of Life Sciences has an outstanding range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, including Anthropology, Biological Science, and Zoology.