PhD defence: Community based forest monitoring – local ecological knowledge, data quality, costs and motivations

PhD defence

Søren Brofeldt


Tropical forests are home to a large proportion of the global terrestrial biodiversity, help regulate the worlds’ climate and are essential to millions livelihoods. The local people that live in the world's forests possess extensive knowledge on local ecology and are in a unique position to provide information on forest conditions and help manage forests sustainably. Since 2008, reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) has been an essential part of the global strategy to mitigate climate change and community based monitoring (CBM) is proposed as a way to provide timely and relevant observations to inform global REDD+ implementation. This thesis presents five papers, based on fieldwork in eight field sites across Southeast Asia. The papers explore data quality, costs and local motivations to engage in CBM featuring methods ranging from the application of local ecological knowledge to identify tree species to using smart phones to document illegal logging. It presents evidence that local communities with limited formal education can produce large amounts of valid data on forest carbon stock, biodiversity and illegal logging activities using advanced technology in combination with their local knowledge. Findings also show that local community members, who depend on forests for their livelihoods, can be intrinsically motivated to engage in CBM if monitoring objectives support local priorities of forest rights and decentralized forest management. Lastly, findings show that CBM can be done at a cost that is notably lower than the cost of using professional foresters and botanists, especially if monitoring is designed to incentivize forest dependent communities to engage. The thesis concludes that CBM has significant potential for informing REDD+ activities and provides three recommendation for future REDD+ decision makers:
1- Undertake more research on CBM that address the large spatial and temporal scales that will be relevant in REDD+
2- Keep CBM objectives relevant to the priorities of local communities
3- Be careful that digital technology is not viewed as a way to replace the local ecological knowledge that exists in local communities.


Ida Theilade, Senior researcher, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Henrik Meilby, Associate professor, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Finn Danielsen, Ecologist, Nordic Foundation for Development and Ecology (D.Sc.), University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Assessment Committee

Carsten Smith-Hall, Professor, Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Margaret Skutsch, Senior researcher, Univeridad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico

Anne Mette Lykke, Senior researcher, University of Aarhus, Denmark

If you are interested in a full copy of the thesis, you can contact the PhD student or the supervisor.