David Roberts


Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology

School of Anthropology and Conservation

University of Kent, Marlowe Building

Canterbury, Kent.



I’m naturally inquisitive and tend to work on research questions that I find interesting (and hopefully others find interesting too!), particularly questions that require me to collaborate with people from other disciplines.

Much of my initial research focussed on orchid taxonomy and the uses of museum specimens in relation to conservation including modelling extinction, phenological responses to climate change and conservation status. Since moving to the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology I have particularly focussed on the wildlife trade (both legal and illegal, from livelihoods to online trade) and the development of technologies in support of conservation (e.g. software for the automated identification of online trade in ivory and anti-poaching/traceability technology).

I also have an interest in how species are identified (including new, extinct and rediscovered species), factors affecting accuracy and the impact it has particularly on extinction models.


I’m interested in most aspects of wildlife trade, from livelihoods to enforcement, and use a diverse range of methods including, game theory, machine learning, sensitive questioning techniques, network analysis and choice experiments. However, since 2010 I have been focussing on the role of the internet in wildlife trade, particularly illegal wildlife trade and how social media sites are used.

Most recently I have become interested in issues around Access and Benefit Sharing in relation to known wild provenance material in the horticultural industry, and how this relates to traceability.


2016-present Visiting Research (University of Oxford)

2015-present Reader in Biodiversity Conservation (University of Kent)

2012-2015 Senior Lecturer in Biodiversity Conservation (University of Kent)

2010-2013 MA in Higher Education (University of Kent)

2010-2012 Lecturer in Biodiversity Conservation (University of Kent)

2007-2008 Sarah & Daniel Hrdy Fellow in Conservation Biology (Harvard University)

2006-2009 Senior Scientific Officer (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew)

2001-2006 Scientific Officer (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew)

1997-2001 PhD ‘Reproductive Biology and Conservation of the Orchids of Mauritius’ (University of Aberdeen)

1996-1997 MPhil ‘Analysis of Genetic Structure in Oak Woodlands of West Wales’ (University of Wales, Aberystwyth)

1993-1996 BSc (Hons) Botany (University of Wales, Aberystwyth)

For the next 3 years I will be collaborating on the Oxford Martin School programme on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, specifically related to wildlife trade over the internet and the interactions between the legal and illegal markets for bear bile in China.

Austen, G.E., Bindemann, M., Griffiths, R.A., Roberts, D.L. (2016) Species identification by experts and non-experts: comparing images from field guides. Scientific Reports, 6:33634.

Faulkner, S.C., Verity, R., Roberts, D., Roy, S.S., Robertson, P.A., Stevenson, M.D., Le Comber, S.C. (2016) Using geographic profiling to compare the value of sightings vs trap data in a biological invasion. Diversity and Distribution. DOI: 10.1111/ddi.12498

Harrison, J.R., Roberts, D.L., Hernandez‐Castro, J. (2016) Assessing the extent and nature of wildlife trade on the dark web. Conservation Biology, 30:900-904.

Hinsley, A., Lee, T.E., Harrison, J.R., Roberts, D.L. (2016) Estimating the extent and structure of trade in horticultural orchids via social media. Conservation Biology, 30: 1038-1047.

Hinsley, A., Nuno, A., Ridout, M.S., St John, F.A.V., Roberts, D.L. (2016) Estimating the extent of CITES non-compliance amongst end-consumers; lessons from the global orchid trade. Conservation Letters. DOI: 10.1111/conl.12316

Jarić, I., Courchamp, F., Gessner, J., Roberts, D.L. (2016) Data mining in conservation research using Latin and vernacular species names. PeerJ, 4:e2202.

Jarić, I., Courchamp, F., Gessner, J., Roberts, D.L. (2016) Potentially threatened: a Data Deficient flag for conservation management. Biodiversity and Conservation, 25:1995-2000.

Lee, T.E., Roberts, D.L. (2016) Devaluing rhino horns as a theoretical game. Ecological Modelling, 337:73-78.

Roberts, D. L. & Jarić, I. (2016). Inferring extinction in North American and Hawaiian birds in the presence of sighting uncertainty. PeerJ, 4:e2426.

Roberts, D.L., Taylor, L., Joppa, L.N. (2016) Threatened or Data Deficient: assessing the conservation status of poorly known species. Diversity and Distributions, 22:558-565

Sujanani, S., Ziai, M.A., Roberts, D.L., Batchelor, J. (2016) Conservation of endangered plant species using RFID tags. Conference Proceedings of the 2016 Loughborough Antennas and Propagation Conference.

Gibbon, G.E.M, Bindemann, M., Roberts, D.L. (2015) Factors affecting the identification of individual mountain bongo antelope. PeerJ, 3:e1303.

Hernandez-Castro, J., Roberts, D.L. (2015) Using data mining to automate the detection of potentially illegal online sales of elephant ivory. PeerJ Computer Science, 1:e10.

Hinsley, A., Veríssimo, D., Roberts, D.L. (2015) Heterogeneity in consumer preferences for orchids in international trade and the potential for the use of market research methods to study demand for wildlife. Biological Conservation, 190:80-86.

Lee, T.E., Black, S.A., Fellous, A., Yamaguchi, N., Angelici, F.M., Hikmani, H.A., Reed, J.M., Elphick, C.S., Roberts, D.L. (2015) Assessing uncertainty in sighting records: an example of the Barbary lion. PeerJ, 3:e1224.

Robinson, J.E., Griffiths, R.A., St John, F.A.V., Roberts, D.L. (2015) Dynamics of the global trade in live reptiles: shifting trends in production strategies and consequences for sustainability. Biological Conservation, 184:42-50.

Robinson, J.E., St John, F.A.V., Griffiths, R.A., Roberts, D.L. (2015) Reptile mortality rates in the home and their implications for a continuing trade. PLoS One, 10:e0141460.

Hulme, T., Duffy, R., Roberts, D.L., Sandbrook, C., St John, F.A.V., Smith, R.J. (2014) Biology drones: undermined by fear. Science, 344:1351.

Jaric, I., Roberts, D.L. (2014) Accounting for observation reliability when inferring extinction based on sighting records. Biodiversity and Conservation, 23:2801-2815.

Lee, T.E., McCarthy, M.A., Wintle, B., Roberts, D.L., Bode, M., Burgman, M.A. (2014) Inferring extinctions from sighting records of variable reliability. Journal of Applied Ecology, 51:251-258.

Robbirt, K.M., Roberts, D.L., Hutchings, M.J., Davy, A.J. (2014) Potential disruption of pollination in a sexually deceptive orchid by climatic change. Current Biology, 24:2845-2849.

Roberts, D.L, St John, F.A.V. (2014) Estimating the prevalence of researcher misconduct: a study of UK academics within biological sciences. PeerJ, 2:e562.

Black, S.A., Fellous, A., Yamaguchi, N., Roberts, D.L. (2013) Examining the extinction of Panthera leo in North Africa and its implications for lion conservation. PLoS ONE, 8:e60174. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0060174

Gardiner, L.M., Motes, M., Emerson, B.C., Roberts, D.L., Kocyan, A. (2013) Molecular phylogenetics of Vanda and related genera (Orchidaceae). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 173:549-572.

Motes, M., Roberts, D.L. (2013) Vanda perplexa (Orchidaceae): a new species from the Lesser Sunda Islands. Kew Bulletin, 68:337-340.

Roberts, D.L. (2013) Refuge-effect hypothesis and the demise of the Dodo. Conservation Biology, 27:14778-14780.

Smith, R.J., Roberts, D.L., Duffy, R., St John, F.A.V. (2013) New rhino conservation project in South Africa to understand landowner decision-making. Oryx, 47:323.

Solow, A., Roy, S., Bell, C., Milborrow, J., Roberts, D.L. (2013) On the introduction of the pine marten to Mull. Biological Conservation, 159:4-6.

Veríssimo, D., Roberts, D.L. (2013) The academic welfare state: making peer-review count. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 28:623-624.

Joppa, L.N., Roberts, D.L., Pimm, S.L. (2012) Taxonomy that matters: reply to Bacher. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 27:66.

Kindlmann, P., Roberts, D.L. (2012) When is an asymmetric plant-pollinator relationship symmetrical? European Journal of Environmental Sciences, 2:15-18.

Sanz, E., von Cramon-Taubadel, N., Roberts, D.L. (2012) Species differentiation of slipper orchids using color image analysis. Lankesteriana, 12:165-173.

Solow, A., Smith, W., Burgman, M.A., Rout, T., Wintle, B., Roberts, D.L. (2012) Uncertain sightings and the extinction of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis). Conservation Biology, 26:180-184.

Joppa, L.N., Roberts, D.L., Myers, N., Pimm, S.L. (2011) Biodiversity hotspots house most undiscovered plant species. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 108:13171-13176.

Joppa, L.N., Roberts, D.L., Pimm, S.L. (2011) How many species of flowering plants are there? Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 278:554-559.

Joppa, L.N., Roberts, D.L., Pimm, S.L. (2011) The population ecology and social behaviour of taxonomists. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 26:551-553.

Robbirt, K.M., Davy, A.J., Hutchings, M.J., Roberts, D.L. (2011) Validation of biological collections as a source of phenological data for use in climate change studies: a case study with the orchid Ophrys sphegodes. Journal of Ecology, 99:235-241.

Rivers, M., Taylor, L., Brummitt, N.A., Thomas, R.M., Roberts, D.L., Nic Lughadha, E. (2011) How many herbarium specimens are needed to detect threatened species? Biological Conservation, 144: 2541-2547.

Taylor, L., Roberts, D.L. (2011) Biological Flora of the British Isles: Epipogium aphyllum Sw. Journal of Ecology, 99:878-890.

Droissart, V., Lowry II, P.P., Bosser, J, Roberts, D.L., Stevart, T. (2010) Correcting confusion regarding the identity, circumscription and synonymy of Angraecum gracile Thouars (Orchidaceae). Taxon, 59:1578-1580.

Pimm, S.L., Jenkins, C.N., Joppa, L.N., Roberts, D.L., Russell, G. (2010) How many endangered species remain to be discovered in Brazil? Natureza & Conservacao, 8:71-77.

Elphick, C.S., Roberts, D.L., Reed, J.M. (2010) Estimated dates of recent extinctions for North American and Hawaiian birds. Biological Conservation, 143:617-624.

Roberts, D.L., Elphick, C.S., Reed, J.M. (2010) Identifying anomalous reports of putatively extinct species and why it matters. Conservation Biology, 24:189-196.

Bell, A.K., Roberts, D.L., Hawkins, J.A., Rudall, P.J., Box, M.S., Bateman, R.M. (2009) Comparative micromorphology of nectiferous and nectarless labellar spurs in selected clades of subtribe Orchidinae (Orchidaceae). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 160:369-387.

Duffy, K.J., Kingston, N.E., Sayers, B.A., Roberts, D.L., Stout, J.C. (2009) Inferring national and regional declines of rare orchid species using probabilistic models. Conservation Biology, 23:184-195.

Roberts, D.L., Marshall, C.R. (2009) Are higher taxa described earlier or later than expected by chance? Systematics and Biodiversity, 7:243-247.

Schodelbauerova, I., Roberts, D.L. Kindlmann, K. (2009) Size of protected areas is the main determinant of species diversity in orchids. Biological Conservation, 142:2329-2334.

Vogel, R.M., Hosking, J.R.M, Elphick, C.S., Roberts, D.L., Reed, J.M. (2009) Goodness-of-fit for probability distributions of sightings as species approach extinction. Bulletin of Mathematical Biology, 71:701-719.

Godfrey, M.H., Roberts, D.L., Godley, B.J. (2008) Taking it as red: an introduction to the theme section on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Endangered Species Research, 6:109-111.

Roberts, D.L., Dixon, K.W. (2008) Orchids. Current Biology, 18:R325-R329. (invited Primer)

Roberts, D.L., Gardiner, L.M., Motes, M. (2008) Vanda longitepala (Orchidaceae): a new species from the Burma. Kew Bulletin, 63:1-3.

Roberts, D.L., Solow, A.R. (2008) The effect of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species on scientific collections. Proceedings of the Royal Society B., 275:987-989.

Cribb, P., Hermans, J., Roberts, D.L. (2007) Erasanthe (Epidendroideae, Vandeae, Aerangidinae), a new endemic orchid genus from Madagascar. Adansonia, 29:1-4.

Roberts, D.L. (2007) Effect of knowledge gain on species’ conservation status. Lankesteriana, 7:181-183.

Roberts, D.L. (2007) Observations on the effect of nectar-robbery on the reproductive success of Aeranthes arachnitis (Orchidaceae). Lankesteriana, 7:509-514.

Roberts, D.L., Bateman, R.M. (2007) Do ambush predators prefer rewarding or non-rewarding orchid inflorescences? Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 92:763-771.

Schodelbauerova, I., Kindlmann, K., Roberts, D.L. (2007) The species-area-energy relationship in the orchidaceae. Lankesteriana, 7:209-214.

McInerny, G.J., Roberts, D.L., Davy, A.J., Cribb, P.J. (2006) Significance of sighting rate when inferring extinction and threat. Conservation Biology, 20:562-567.

Robbirt, K.M., Roberts, D.L., Hawkins, J.A. (2006) Comparing IUCN and probabilistic assessments of threat: do IUCN red list criteria conflate rarity and threat? Biodiversity and Conservation, (Special Issue – Extinction Risk) 15:1903-1912.

Roberts, D.L. (2006) Extinct or possibly extinct? Science, 312:997-998.

Roberts, D.L., Kitchener, A.J. (2006) Inferring extinction from biological records: Were we too quick to write off Miss Waldron’s Red Colobus Monkey (Piliocolobus badius waldronae)? Biological Conservation, 128:285-287.

Roberts, D.L., Saltmarsh, A. (2006) How confident are we that a species is extinct? Quantitative inference of extinction from biological records. The Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club, 126A:55-58.

Solow, A.R., Kitchener, A.J., Roberts, D.L., Birks, J.D.S. (2006) Rediscovery of the Scottish polecat, Mustela putorius: Survival or reintroduction? Biological Conservation, 128:574-575.

Solow, A.R., Roberts, D.L. (2006) Museum collections, species distribution, and rarefaction. Diversity and Distribution, 12:423-424.

Solow, A.R., Roberts, D.L., Robbirt, K.M. (2006) On the Pleistocene extinctions of Alaskan mammoths and horses. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 103:7351-7353.

Cribb, P., Roberts, D., Hermans, J. (2005) Distribution, ecology and threat to selected Madagascan orchids. Selbyana, 26:125-133.

Gardiner, L.M., Hawkins, J.A., Roberts, D.L. (2005) Species delimitation in Vanda sect. Cristatae Lindl. (Orchidaceae): a morphological approach. Selbyana, 26:347-353.

Jacquemyn, H., Micheneau, C., Roberts, D.L., Pailler, T. (2005) Elevation gradients of species diversity, breeding system and floral traits of orchid species on Reunion Island. Journal of Biogeography, 32:1751-1761.

Roberts, D.L. (2005) Aeranthes virginalis (Orchidaceae): a new species of orchid from the Comoro Islands. Kew Bulletin, 60:139-141.

Roberts, D.L., Moat, J., McInerny, G.J. (2005) What have herbaria ever done for us? The role of herbaria in conservation assessments. Selbyana, 26:299-303.

Roberts, D.L. Florens, V.F.B., Baider, C. Bosser. J. (2004) Taeniophyllum coxii (Summerh.) Summerh. (Orchidaceae): a new record for Mauritius, Indian Ocean. Kew Bulletin, 59:493-494.

Roberts, D.L., McGlynn, T.P. (2004) Tetramorium insolens Smith (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): a new record for Mauritius, Indian Ocean. African Entomology, 12:265-267.

Roberts, D.L., McInerny, G.J. (2003) When is a species extinct? Quantitative inference of threat and extinction from herbarium data. Lankesteriana, 7:17-20.

Roberts, D.L., Solow, A.R. (2003) When did the Dodo become extinct? Nature, 426:245.

Solow, A.R., Roberts, D.L. (2003) A nonparametric test for extinction based on a sighting record. Ecology, 84:1329-1332.

Davies, K.L., Roberts, D.L. Turner, M.P. (2002) Pseudopollen and food-hair diversity in Polystachya Hook. (Orchidaceae). Annals of Botany, 90:477-484.

Gail Austen – Eyeing up biodiversity: how we identify species

Vince Chaipanich – Conservation and ecology of Vanilla siamensis in Thailand

Holly Harris – Is wild harvesting in the UK sustainable?

Trang Nguyen – Investigating the impact of the Southeast Asian diaspora in Africa on wildlife through the demand for traditional Asian medicines

Tristan Pett – The benefits of biodiversity: understanding human-wildlife interactions in urban environments

Helen Pheasey – Methods of and motives for laundering a wildlife commodity beyond captive farming: the harvest of olive Ridley sea turtle eggs

Janine Robinson – Supplying the exotic pet trade: conservation and livelihood implications

Hiro Shimai – Taxonomy, evolution and ecology of the genus Pinguicula

Christopher Sone Nkoke – Ivory poaching in Cameroon

Sarah Stow – Bryophytes as environmental indicators of habitat quality: a new toolset for conservation assessments

Lydia Yeo – Application of mark-recapture models in assessing wildlife trade