Students at the CBC

People, Values, and Land Use in Madagascar

Georgina Cullman, Ph.D. candidate, Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology, Columbia University
Research interests
Georgina Cullman

Sharing a laugh and a meal with a local leader after a long day in the forest.

Claudin Zara

In the broadest sense, I am interested in the maintenance of the world’s biological and cultural diversity. More practically, I aim to contribute to bettering the implementation of biodiversity conservation within a social context. My doctoral research is based in and around the newly established Makira Protected Area in northeastern Madagascar. I investigate how different actors in the region value different forms of land use and the effect of these land uses on the important biodiversity of the region. I hope that the findings from my research will contribute to reducing conflict between local farmers and the conservation project and to identifying more culturally appropriate conservation interventions in the region.

In March – June 2010, I undertook my pilot research in Madagascar. I tested methods to estimate biodiversity in different land use types in the region and conducted interviews with local landholders with the help of my Malagasy assistant, Claudin Zara. During the time I spent in these rural communities, it became clear to me that the forest is important to them both materially and culturally. Local people hold detailed and sophisticated knowledge about forest species and ecology.  I hope that as I continue to do my research I will be able to learn more about how local people value the forest so that their values can inform the future management of the forests in and around Makira Protected Area.

Academic Background

I received my MS in Interdisciplinary Ecology from University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment, with a certificate from the Tropical Conservation and Development Program. My master's research explored local land tenure systems and natural resource management in the Bolivian Amazon. Before graduate school, I worked at the American Museum of Natural History's Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, developing free, locally appropriate, high-quality resources for teaching biodiversity conservation around the world (

Dung beetles, mammal hunting, and ecosystem functioning 

Liz Nichols
Liz Nichols

Andrés Gómez

Liz Nichols is a PhD candidate at the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology of Columbia University. Her current research interests center on understanding how changes in mammal biodiversity (due to overhunting) cascade through tropical forest systems, to affect dung beetles and the important ecological functions they provide.

Liz’s fieldwork takes place in the very western edge of the Brazilian Amazon – in two contiguous multiple-use protected areas. This designation of protected areas is one of the most common and rapidly expanding across the Amazon – and seeks to create areas where human populations, extractive practices and biodiversity can successfully co-exist. In these areas, hunting and fishing are broadly unregulated activities (except for a few highly endangered species like caiman and jaguars).

Yet little data is available to evaluate the conservation success of this style of protected area. One important question centers on mammal hunting in tropical rainforests – how sustainable is it? And how does one define sustainability?

Liz’s work seeks to understand this notion of sustainability through a new lens – by measuring the impacts that mammal removal in tropical forests has for a group of insects that are wholly dependent upon mammals for their survival. By linking data on human hunting practices, mammal population responses to hunting, dung beetle responses to mammal population densities, she will begin to address the secondary or ‘cascade’ effects of unregulated mammal hunting. Her work also addresses the consequences of these cascade effects on ecosystem functioning, by measuring how several important dung beetle functions (waste removal and seed burial among them) are altered in more and less heavily hunted areas. 

Studies like this can help us understand more about the links between biodiversity loss and the future of the tropical ecosystems so many people depend upon.

For more about Liz and her research:  

Conservation in human-dominated landscapes

Leo Douglas
Leo Douglas

Limbet Smith

Leo Douglas is a Ph.D student in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology at Columbia University.  Leo came to Columbia University from Jamaica with a Fulbright OAS Scholarship and has continued his education through the International Graduate Student Fellowship Program of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the AMNH.  Leo’s broad research interests center on biodiversity conservation within human-dominated landscapes, the study, mitigation, and management of people-environment conflicts, and rural poverty as this relates sustainable land management. Currently Leo works closely with CBC Assistant Director for Capacity Development Dr. Ana Luz Porzecanski and anthropologist Dr. Paige West to examine conflict surrounding birds within the parrot family and human interests on the island of Dominica in the Caribbean.   Human-wildlife conflict is a growing, poorly studied threat to nature conservation throughout the world, and an important challenge for local protected area managers and international conservation practitioners. Leo’s project aims to understand the importance of parrots as a cause of, and environmental determinants of crop losses, the economic costs that agriculturalists face, the effect that parrots have on the wilder bird community structure, and the attitudes, practices, and conservation implications of parrot-agriculture conflict for parrot conservation on Dominica and beyond.   As a volunteer, Leo has worked extensively to raise the capacity of Caribbean conservation professionals.  Among his most important achievements is his nine-year capacity development work for the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds (SCSCB) in the form of ongoing training, resource development, and public relations activities in his capacity as their media relations officer.  The Society, the largest organization devoted to wildlife conservation in the Caribbean.   In New York, Leo has volunteered for the organization One To World for 5 years and served on their board for three years .      One To World is a not-for-profit organization, creating global learning opportunities for and between students, educators, and the New York City community in the spirit of Fulbright.  Through One To World Leo has conducted workshops on diverse issues such as toxic chemicals and the important of biodiversity to both high-achieving and underserved high schools, and college students across the greater New York area.