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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 3 (2014 Deadline)

Biodiversity conservation in Indochina: integrating research and training to enhance wildlife trade management

PI:  Minh Le (, Central Institute for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies of Vietnam National University (VNU-CRES), with co-PIs Seak Sophat, Royal University of Phnom Penh, and Sengdeuane Wayakone, National University of Laos
U.S. Partner: Mary Blair, The American Museum of Natural History
Project Dates: September 2014 to February 2018
3-149 Loris
One of the biggest direct threats to biodiversity in Indochina is the illegal wildlife trade, which has driven many species to the brink of extinction. This problem will likely get worse without immediate and effective measures to control the trade. Conservation efforts in the region have been hindered by the lack of understanding about the pattern, scale, and drivers of the trade. A more comprehensive approach is therefore critically needed to characterize the trade network, and design cost effective conservation measures. In this project, the research team will address issues related to the trade by surveying wildlife markets and by strengthening the existing research and conservation activities between Indochinese countries, such as Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. The research team will build capacity in conservation genetics, forensic science, and socioeconomic analyses of trade activities, as these skills are critically needed to tackle this complex threat in the region. The project has three main aims: (1) clarify the scale and drivers of the wildlife trade through market surveys in Indochina; (2) develop a DNA database for all protected animal species in Indochina for trade monitoring and enforcement; and (3) strengthen existing research in the conservation genetics of lorises, muntjacs, and turtles to identify unique lineages in groups under the highest harvesting pressure.

The research project will expand on Dr. Mary Blair’s research project through the development of a biodiversity research network across Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia for coordinated data collection, DNA database mapping, and capacity building. The project will also add in-depth studies of key trade-targeted species beyond lorises, including muntjacs and turtles. Dr. Blair will work closely with the research team on field surveys, genetic analyses of the lorises, and the development of socioeconomic data collection and analysis methods to enable coordination of these methods across the PEER and NSF projects, thus expanding their collective impact. The project directly targets biodiversity conservation, an important development objective of USAID. The research results of the project will help enhance wildlife trade management in Indochina and thus better conserve biodiversity at the regional level. Critical information on the pattern, scale, and drivers of the trade will influence the development of effective conservation measures and wildlife trade policy, which in turn will mitigate impacts of the trade among three nations. Furthermore, research skills and capacity developed during the project will help sustain conservation efforts in the region in the future.

Summary of Recent Activities

3-149 Muntjac
In the third quarter of 2017, the PI reported that three papers recently written with his U.S. partner Dr. Mary Blair and other colleagues have appeared in print recently: "The importance of an interdisciplinary research approach to inform wildlife trade management in Southeast Asia" (in Bioscience), "Applying systems thinking to inform studies of wildlife trade in primates" (in the American Journal of Primatology), and "Multidisciplinary studies of wildlife trade in primates: Challenges and priorities" (also in the American Journal of Primatology).

Dr. Le attended a technical workshop on July 14, 2017, organized by the Biodiversity Conservation Agency (BCA) of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in Vietnam. Several major stakeholders who have been involved in the biodiversity database development took part in the workshop and presented their work. The database developed under the PEER project received positive comments from participants, and BCA expressed interest in possibly using it as a model for its own national database on endangered and threatened species in Vietnam.

In the next three to six months, the PI plans to continue sequencing and adding missing species to the database, release a new updated version of the database, and submit new manuscripts for publication based on the project results. A final project workshop including the co-PIs and other team members from Cambodia and Laos is tentatively planned for early December 2017. A no-cost extension is being issued through February 28, 2018, to allow the researchers time to finish filling in the remaining field collection gaps, analyzing their data, and preparing manuscripts for publication.

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