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Characterising the structure and function of international wildlife trade networks in the age of online communication

Hinsley, Amy Elizabeth (2016) Characterising the structure and function of international wildlife trade networks in the age of online communication. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:54427)

Language: English
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The international wildlife trade supports livelihoods but can seriously threaten species if not controlled. The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) monitors and controls trade in over 35,000 at risk species, over 70% of which are orchids. Mitigating the negative effects of illegal wildlife trade is difficult as traders are motivated by the large potential profits (an estimated $7-10 billion per year in total) to frequently adopt new methods to avoid detection, such as the increasing use of the internet as a marketplace. In this thesis I use the international orchid horticultural trade as a case study in which to explore issues relating to the structure and function of online wildlife trade networks.

I start by investigating consumer behaviour, one of the major gaps in knowledge relating to the function of wildlife trade networks. First I test the use of choice experiments to reveal information about consumer preferences, with a focus on identifying particular orchid attributes that may drive demand. I also identify specific groups of consumers who may be buying from the illegal market, with a particular focus on those buying online. I then extend this focus on behaviour to explore non-compliance with CITES rules amongst an international group of orchid growers. I test the use of a specialized questioning method known as the Unmatched Count Technique alongside direct questions to identify which types of growers are breaking the rules and why.

I then move on to focus on the structure of trade networks currently operating online, beginning with a gap analysis of access and benefit sharing from the online orchid trade in Southeast Asia, to identify countries that are not selling their own species. The region is a centre of orchid diversity and export but the lower income countries are not currently benefitting from the widespread online trade in their own species. Following the study of formal online trade I switch to the informal trade operating within orchid themed groups on an international social media website. I use social network analysis to identify closely linked communities within the wider network and make recommendations for how best to communicate with these networks. I also assess the prevalence of both legal and illegal trade taking place via posts within these groups.

The findings of this thesis have the potential for application to the conservation of species threatened by wildlife trade and the methods used provide new potential approaches to studying the structure and function of online trade networks in particular. My findings address key gaps in conservation knowledge relating to consumer behaviour, online trade networks and the efficacy of current regulations. For policy makers and practitioners it emphasises the importance of a coordinated and adaptive approach to tackling illegal online wildlife trade and strengthening the legal trade. It also highlights the current status of the orchid trade and emphasises the current lack of conservation attention being given to the trade in plants.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Roberts, David
Thesis advisor: Fischer, Mike
Thesis advisor: Ridout, Martin
Uncontrolled keywords: wildlife trade plants orchids horticultural trade online trade conservation
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
H Social Sciences
H Social Sciences > HF Commerce
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation
Funders: Organisations -1 not found.
Depositing User: Users 1 not found.
Date Deposited: 03 Mar 2016 12:00 UTC
Last Modified: 08 Dec 2022 14:54 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Hinsley, Amy Elizabeth.

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