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The Global Drivers of Wildlife Tourism and its Future Potential in a Changing World

KIRKLAND, MAIRE,ELEANOR (2021) The Global Drivers of Wildlife Tourism and its Future Potential in a Changing World. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Nature tourism is tourism with the primary aim of experiencing and enjoying nature, often in PAs. Wildlife is a key attraction within the nature tourism industry, with many tourists visiting PAs to view and interact with free-roaming animals. This form of non-consumptive wildlife tourism can generate revenue for conservation, local communities, and national economic development. Accordingly, wildlife tourism has been heralded as a powerful tool that can help countries protect their biodiversity, while also growing and diversifying their economies, contributing to multiple international conservation and development goals simultaneously. In light of this, the lack of quantitative information on where tourists chose to go to watch wildlife, and why, has been identified as a major research gap. This study aims to determine the drivers of global wildlife tourism by identifying species’ traits and PA features that attract wildlife tourists, and to explore the potential of wildlife tourism in the future.

I start by using phylogenetic comparative methods to predict the attractiveness of the world’s birds and terrestrial non-volant mammals. I define a species’ attractiveness based on the frequency with which species are cited by wildlife tourism resources (i.e., global and regional wildlife tourism guidebooks, brochures, websites) aimed predominantly at generalist, Western and/or English-speaking tourists, a large subset of the wildlife tourism market. In combination with data on species’ traits and range attributes, I model this index of attractiveness at a global scale. I repeat these analyses at a national scale, focussing on the United Kingdom, to explore whether the drivers of species attractiveness differ at these two scales. I go on to predict the popularity of PAs, based on the frequency of their occurrences within the same wildlife tourism literature mentioned above. To model this index of popularity, I consider predictor variables such as the attractiveness of the constituent species pool, as well as other PA features (such as size, remoteness, and land cover present at a site). I use ensemble species distribution models to assess the potential impact of future climate change on the ranges of the world’s birds and terrestrial mammals, taking into account uncertainty in climate models and species dispersal, and consider how this might influence global patterns of wildlife tourism.

At the larger scale, species attractiveness was determined by a number of traits, including body mass, extinction risk, time partitioning (i.e., nocturnal vs. diurnal), and sociality/coloniality. Another important feature was the habitat in which a species occurs. The study also shows, for the first time, the significant impact of evolutionary distinctiveness, migratory behaviour in birds, and political stability (of the country in which a species is found) on species attractiveness. In the United Kingdom, attractiveness was influenced by a similar suite of traits, but slight variations indicated heterogeneous tourist preferences that differ between international globe-trotting tourists vs. mostly domestic tourists visiting the United Kingdom. The presence of attractive, as well as rarer, species assemblages was a key determinant enhancing PA popularity globally. PA popularity was also influenced by landscape features, age, size, accessibility and designation/management category. The observed connections between different components of biodiversity values supports the notion that managing PAs for both biodiversity and wildlife tourism simultaneously is possible. Strong relationships between PA popularity, as determined by citation frequency within wildlife tourism resources, and PA visitor numbers, suggest that wildlife tourism literature can serve as a proxy for human use of PAs.

The results of my research indicate significant and untapped financial opportunities available to countries in sub-Saharan Africa, South America and South East Asia that protect, market, and develop their wildlife assets in the right way. PAs located in East and Southern Africa, the Peruvian Amazon, and Patagonia were predicted to be most popular. Despite possessing slightly less attractive species assemblages, PAs India, the Iberian Peninsula and the western portions of the United States were also popular. These PAs should be prioritised for wildlife tourism investment, as well as management efforts to maximise tourist interest but reduce the risk of over-visitation, in order to capitalise on wildlife tourism opportunities and the benefits they offer for biodiversity conservation and local people. In East Africa, the Amazon basin, and the Guianas, robust, proactive adaptation is needed to help managers mitigate projected climate-induced declines in species attractiveness. The tropical Andes, the Himalayas, and Russia’s Northern Taiga, may benefit from colonisation by attractive species as a result of climate change, but environmental impacts of increased visitation may need to be addressed.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Science > Biological and Biomedical Sciences, School of
Thesis Date:2021
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:24 Nov 2021 11:50

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