Benedikt Rakotonirina-Hess

Multispecies knowledge, values and relationships in Arctic Tern conservation

University of Groningen, Faculty of Arts

Supervisors: Prof. Anne Beaulieu and Dr. Maarten Loonen


Benedikt did his Bachelors degree in environmental sciences at the ETH Zurich, before finishing my Masters in Forest and Nature Conservation at the University and Research Centre Wageningen. His masters thesis was about Rewilding and the Actor-Networks in the Black Forest National Park.


This thesis aims to understand the relationship between humans and Arctic terns in a new ecosystem and to study how the birds’ survival is ensured in anthropogenic landscapes. This project focuses on Arctic tern colonies in the northern Netherlands that had to be relocated to an artificial Island due to conflicts with port activities. The main questions addressed will be: how and why do attitudes and practices towards Arctic birds change over time and space, and what role do different forms of knowledge (ecological, legal, economic) play in valuing the terns and Stern Island? Within this framework, the PhD will explore why and how Arctic terns are protected, how knowledge about this island and Arctic terns is produced, maintained and disseminated, and will describe the relationship between environmental knowledge and tern valuation, as well as the ontological implications of constructed ecosystems. The project proposes to explore the intersection of knowledge and value in bird conservation through the lens of three approaches: more-than-human geography, STS, and knowledge infrastructures, in order to conceptualize the emerging ecosystems on the Island as social fields where human and non-human influences shape a hybrid landscape. The first part of the project will focus on understanding the decisions of actor-networks and assemblages of humans and non-humans present on Tern Island, by combining a geographic understanding with a more-than-human understanding. The student will then travel to the field to address these tensions through ethnographic research. Later on, a point of interest will be to study what the relocations mean from the point of view of the terns, i.e. how they affect their behavior towards their environment and humans, and look at Tern knowledge infrastructures like remote sensing technologies.