The international trade of animals is a large industry, but sometimes control of this trade is important so that wild populations are not harmed. PhD student Ting-Chun Kuo is studying how international trade agreements impact the movement of at-risk species across international borders.

Using seahorses as a case study, Ting is investigating the key players and influences in the global trade of marine species. By understanding the complicated web of supply and demand across regions and over time, she hopes to provide a better understanding of how trade regulations can be used to conserve marine wildlife.


Project details

International wildlife trade continues to increase rapidly, and has become a significant threat to species survival. However, we still lack an understanding of the scale, routes, and impacts of wildlife trade. While an increasing number of wildlife is protected by trade control, until recently, marine fishes have been overlooked. I am interested in knowing:
•    Do international trade regulations affect the management and trade patterns of protected species? If so, what are the conservation implications of such changes?
•    Do trade controls have similar impacts on marine fishes and other wildlife?

My research aims to explore these questions by analyzing global wildlife trade data and then use seahorses as a case study.

What is CITES?
The primary tool to ensure that trade of wildlife is sustainable is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). By regulating international trade, CITES is the only multilateral environmental agreement with enforcement capacity. The species covered by CITES are listed in three appendices, according to the degree of protection they need. My research focuses on species in Appendix II, for which any international trade needs to ensure that wild populations are not harmed. Parties of CITES often use trade bans and export quotas to regulate their trade to a sustainable volume.

Seahorses as a case study
Seahorses were the first fully marine fishes listed on CITES but the effects of this listing and the drivers of trade are largely unknown. Trade in seahorses is valued at millions of US dollars annually. Since 2002, all 42 seahorse species have been protected by CITES Appendix II, meaning that countries must ensure that trade is not harming wild populations. In my work, I investigate: 
•    How do seahorse source countries react to trade regulations?
•    How do trade regulations affect the seahorse industry?
My research explores the changes in dry seahorse trade from the biggest exporter (Thailand) to importers (Hong Kong and Taiwan) after CITES implementation. By tracking the changes in price, trade volume, and trade partners, I am identifying CITES’ effects on the seahorse industry and the key factors for different market responses. 

Trends and key players of global wild animal trade
CITES has stimulated various changes in the trade of wild animals, including changes in the exporting countries, trade volumes, price, and the percentage of wild-caught versus captive-bred. This leads me to ask:
•    Why do some factors affect some species but not the others? 
•    Can we find the deterministic factors for the changes in trade dynamics, after the species are listed in CITES?
•    Why do some states within the distributional range of a species become important exporters, but not others?
To answer these questions, I am conducting a meta-analysis on the trade records of the >4,800 animals in CITES Appendix II. With this information I will provide insight into the impacts of CITES and identify drivers of global wild animal trade.


Project blog

Images from the field


My publications 


Further reading

Challender, D. W. S., S. R. Harrop, and D. C. MacMillan. 2015. Understanding markets to conserve trade-threatened species in CITES. Biological Conservation 187:249–259.

Foster, S. J., S. Wiswedel, and A. C. J. Vincent. 2014. Opportunities and challenges for analysis of wildlife trade using CITES data - seahorses as a case study (submission). Conservation Biology.

Patel, N. G., C. Rorres, D. O. Joly, J. S. Brownstein, R. Boston, M. Z. Levy, and G. Smith. 2015. Quantitative methods of identifying the key nodes in the illegal wildlife trade network. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 112:7948–53.

Robinson, J. E., R. a. Griffiths, F. a. V. St. John, and D. L. Roberts. 2015. Dynamics of the global trade in live reptiles: Shifting trends in production and consequences for sustainability. Biological Conservation 184:42–50.

Smith, M. J., H. Benítez-Díaz, M. Á. Clemente-Muñoz, J. Donaldson, J. M. Hutton, H. Noel McGough, R. a. Medellin, D. H. W. Morgan, C. O’Criodain, and T. E. E. Oldfield. 2011. Assessing the impacts of international trade on CITES-listed species: Current practices and opportunities for scientific research. Biological Conservation 144:82–91.

Vincent, A. C. J., Y. J. Sadovy de Mitcheson, S. L. Fowler, and S. Lieberman. 2014. The role of CITES in the conservation of marine fishes subject to international trade. Fish and Fisheries 15.4 (2014): 563-592