Conservation Ecologist – Dr. Aldina Franco

Dr. Aldina Franco

We have another opportunity to gain some insight into life as a researcher. This week we are joined by Dr. Aldina Franco. Aldina is a senior lecturer at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the School of Environmental Sciences. Her research group aims to provide evidence to support effective conservation methods around the world. They do this by investigating the mechanisms underlying migration and distribution of species.

 

How would you describe your work to a 10yr old?

I am a conservation ecologist and a scientist. My research focuses on understanding the factors that affect the distribution of animals on the planet (e.g. why do some birds or butterflies only occur in the small areas while others can be seen across continents?) and then I use my research to help their conservation.

Why did you choose this as a profession?

I am fascinated by nature, I like being outside watching animals in their natural environment. I have always been interested in the conservation of rare species, especially those that are rare due to human persecution or habitat destruction. Since I became an independent researcher I have focused on understanding impacts of human activities on the natural world and ecological responses to global environmental change.

Aldina enjoying nature.
Aldina enjoying her fascination with nature.

Scientific research is full of challenges; can you share some of your biggest challenges, and how you overcame them?

I study animal movement and the migratory strategies of birds, some of the challenges of this work are related to the technology available to follow different species. I work with small and big bird species, while the large species can be tracked remotely (i.e. the data is sent directly from the bird to my computer) the small species are still a challenge, because the existing tracking devices are too heavy for them. One of my current challenges is to develop new light-weight tracking devices.

White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) carrying a tracking device.
White Stork (Ciconia ciconia) carrying a tracking device.

One of the biggest challenges of my work is to put in practice the conservation recommendations provided by the research. The research outcomes need to be communicated to policy makers and people that do conservation on the ground. I work with many people in order to achieve this. Unfortunately, the funds for conservation are scarce and it is not always possible to implement the actions that are needed to help rare species or their habitats.

How would you define success as a scientific researcher for you personally?

Success is when I find the answer to a question I had, for example, why is this species declining? Or why do some birds migrate while others, from the same species, do not? Success as a conservation biologist is when I see a rare species that is declining in numbers and going extinct, start increasing in numbers and no longer being at risk of extinction due to the implementation of successful conservation measures.

What excites you about your current projects?

I am really enthusiastic about my current research projects aiming to determine why some birds migrate and others from the same species do not. I find it particularly exciting to plan and carry out the work that is needed to answer research questions, including capturing and marking birds (e.g. falcons and white storks) and tracking their movement remotely with GPS tracking devices.

Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni)
Lesser Kestrel (Falco naumanni)

What advice, that has impacted your career, would you like to share with any scientists reading this?

Follow your dreams, try to work on something that you really like.

If another scientist wanted to collaborate with you, what is the best way for them to connect with you?

I am always open to collaborations. Best way to contact me is via email. If you are interested in working with me send me a brief email explaining why you would like to work with me (a.franco@uea.ac.uk).

If you want to find out more about my work tracking storks with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) you can read about it here. And if you are interested in my work with kestrels you can read a bit about it in this pdf ‘Wildlife comeback in Europe‘ on page 128.

For more of Aldina’s work visit her UEA profile page.

 

Once again, my thanks go to Aldina for taking the time to participate in this interview, and for sharing her work with us. One of the things that stood out to me was the challenge of putting the findings of research into action. I’ve found this to be true in business environments too, and as Aldina mentioned, it requires collaborating with a variety of people and persuading them to support the research findings.

When have you struggled to implement changes following research? What successes have you had? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Don’t forget to share on Twitter, Facebook, and everywhere else you like to hang out on social media.

Until next week,

David

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