There are few student research projects that are accorded such an honour, but it happened to Ana Benítez-López: she is the lead author of an article published in Science. Her research shows that hunting leads to a decline by 83 per cent of tropical mammal abundance, and to 58 per cent fewer birds. It all began with her Master’s research at Utrecht University. Pita Verweij, Ana’s Master’s supervisor at Utrecht and also co-author of this research explains how the article came into being.
“It was a successful research project which lead to a much-cited article,” remembers Pita Verweij. Ana Benítez-López now works in the Environmental Science group at Radboud University. During her degree programme at Utrecht University, she carried out research at PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency into the impact of infrastructure on biodiversity: at what distance is there still a measurable negative affect on birds and mammals? She was supervised by Rob Alkemade from PBL and Pita Verweij from Utrecht University.
While Ana Benítez-López went on to take her doctorate, Jasper Eikelboom, also supervised by Alkemade and Verweij, continued the research with a Master’s research project on the influence of hunting on populations of tropical mammals and birds. His paper showed potential, but was not immediately suitable for publication in Science. It needed extra data analysis and a further dataset.
Enter Benítez-López once more. She worked together with Eikelboom, Alkemade, Verweij and Mark Huijbregts, professor at Radboud University, to put together the publicised paper. Verweij: “At certain proximities to roads, over-hunting and poaching have led to the so-called ‘empty forest syndrome’. For the first time on this scale, we have been able to quantify the effect of hunting on mammal and bird populations. This effect is seen on greater distances of infrastructure and is stronger than was at first supposed. For a Master’s research project to reach this level is a unique achievement.”