We combine field data with statistical modelling to address questions at the interface of ecology and conservation biology. The main objectives of our research are to:

  1. Assess spatial and temporal patterns of species occurrence and identify factors of vulnerability of target populations and communities at various spatial scales.
  2. Understand how occupancy, richness and functional composition of mammalian communities vary across target areas and regions.
  3. Develop multidisciplinary methods that integrate population ecology and genetics, physiology and metataxonomy for the rapid assessment of threatened populations, with a special focus on non-human primates.
  4. Use the results of our research to develop and validate innovative monitoring approaches, devise data management routines and analytics, and provide conservation recommendations.

Current research lines:

Ecology of tropical forest mammal communities

The current biodiversity decline is disproportionally high in the tropics, and many forest mammal communities are both highly threatened and composed of diversified and charismatic animals that signal ecosystem changes. We are part of an extensive network that deploys standardized camera trapping to study spatial and temporal patterns of mammal communities and responses to changes (TEAM Initiative, Wildlife Insights). We also recently developed an independent, extended network of 37 standardized camera trapping areas that builds on the TEAM network. We use hierarchical modelling to investigate patterns in species richness, community and species occupancy, and functional trait composition.

Innovative approaches to study and monitor mammal communities in Italian protected areas

We apply our experience of studying mammals with camera traps in the tropics to protected areas in Italy, where we work with several partners to develop the first national network of standardized studies of mammal communities. We integrate camera trapping, artificial intelligence, and hierarchical modelling to test optimal field protocols and develop innovative approaches that use IT tools for the rapid assessment of species and communities in the face of increasing anthropogenic pressure, and to derive indicators to assess targets set by the UN's SDGs and the EU 2030 biodiversity strategy. Since 2023 part of this work falls under the National Biodiversity Future Centre.

Effects of livestock on snow leopard and other threatened mammals in Mongolia

The globalization of the cashmere market has triggered recent unprecedented increase in livestock numbers if central Asian countries, such as Mongolia. However, the influence of such changes on wildlife is poorly understood. We try to help understand this question by studying how livestock grazing influences the snow leopard and other threatened mammals in the Altai-Gobi mountains region.

Primate ecology and microbiome interactions within hosts and across hosts and environment

The Udzungwa Mountains of Tanzania, location of our long-term research focus, is one of Africa’s outstanding areas for biodiversity importance and a hotspot of non-human primate diversity and endemism. Here, we have studied non-human primate ecology and conservation for two decades. Our main current focus concerns conservation physiology, with emphasis on developing multidisciplinary methods that integrate population ecology and genetics, physiology and gut microbiota diversity for the rapid assessment of threatened populations, human-wildlife interactions, and biodiversity conservation. Through using non-invasive sampling, we apply genomic and metagenomic tools to answer questions on the role of microbiota in host health, interactions across kingdoms (such as bacteria, fungi and helminths) within hosts, and the dynamics between hosts and their natural habitats which are facing alarming changes.

Tropical forest dynamics: effects of defaunation on vegetation and carbon stocks

Tropical forests face the combined effects of deforestation, forest degradation, and global warming, with dramatic consequences on forest growth, carbon balance, and the forests’ ability to sink carbon dioxide and, hence, mitigate climate change. A less studied process is how defaunation alters forest dynamics and carbon stocks. We help understand these issues by using data from the Udzungwa Mountains in regional and global efforts (such as the Global Forest Biodiversity Initiative), and by combining faunal and vegetation data to understand changes in forest structure and dynamics in our target area in Tanzania.

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